February 15th, 2013
09:47 AM ET

Which way will Armenia tilt?

By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya, assistant director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, was an IREX grant recipient in Armenia. The views expressed are her own.

On February 18, Armenians will cast their ballots for president. Although eight candidates have registered, victory and a new five-year term for incumbent Serzh Sargsyan are a foregone conclusion. Still, this election is not meaningless.

The conduct of this poll is important, as will be Sargsyan’s choices after the poll. If the international community gives the election a clean bill of health, it will increase Sargsyan’s legitimacy. He will have the opportunity to enact much needed reforms in order to move closer to the West or, perhaps as likely, avoid tough reforms and move Armenia – already broadly sympathetic to Russia – further into Moscow.

Upon first winning the presidency in February 2008, Sargsyan faced a legitimacy crisis. Some have claimed that he has used his position and connections – he was sitting prime minister and had served previously as secretary of the national security council and defense minister – to rig the election against Levon Ter-Petrossian, a former president. At least ten died in the ensuing protests.

This year, Sargsyan faces little resistance, with Sargsyan’s slide towards authoritarianism and Armenia’s lack of democratic institutions leaving the opposition fractured and divided. His most formidable opponents – Ter-Petrossian and wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, chief of the Prosperous Armenia party – both declined to run.

That Sargsyan effectively gets a free pass does a disservice to Armenia, which faces formidable obstacles to its development. When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili inherited a corrupt and inefficient state in 2004, he stamped out government corruption and reformed Georgia into a Western-leaning economy. On January 31, 2013, the World Bank issued a report, Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia's Reforms,” praising Georgia for tackling corruption and noting that Georgia can serve as an example for other countries facing similar challenges.

Armenia will find no such praise. Its government remains corrupt and inefficient. The country was among the worst hit during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, with GDP shrinking by 14 percent in 2009, according to the IMF. Since then, Armenian GDP has grown slowly – at an average annual rate of approximately 3.5 percent between 2010-2012. In contrast, Georgia grew by an average annual 6.6 percent in the same three years. In 2010, according to official statistics, 35.8 percent of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line – an increase from 27.6 percent in 2008. And, while neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan welcome foreign investors, organized crime keeps most foreign investors out of Armenia. The Armenian Diaspora – who care deeply about Armenia’s success – have long ago concluded that investing in their homeland is a thankless task that will pay dividends neither individually nor for Armenia.

Hundreds of thousands of Armenians now flee the country for better prospects. Younger, more educated Armenians head to the West, while their older, blue-collar compatriots head north to Russia. The Russian government has welcomed these migrants, and has helped place them in areas of Russia facing population decline. While Russia might use these Armenians to mitigate its own demographic problem, the same migration merely exacerbates Armenia’s.

Last April, the European Commission estimated that one-third of Armenia’s population had emigrated since Armenia’s independence in 1991. Visiting Armenia in December 2012, one young Armenian told me that if she or her peers had even small hope that the economy would improve, they would stay. But few see such hope.

Meanwhile, a full sprint into Russia’s embrace may compound Armenia’s problems. In recent years, Armenia has become Russia’s primary foothold in the South Caucasus. Russia’s influence in Armenia is vast not only political and economic, but also military and cultural. Armenia depends on Russia for gas; Russia owns Armenia’s communication and railway networks, and has extended a lease for a Military Base in Gyumri until 2044.

The Kremlin also hopes to bring Armenia into a Russia-led Customs Union – a precursor to the so-called Eurasian Union, which Russian president Vladimir Putin hopes will be a counterweight to the European Union.

With aid, however, the West has leverage.

Since 1992, the United States has provided Armenia with approximately $2 billion in development and humanitarian assistance, the highest aid per capita among the former Soviet states. Although the U.S. reduced funding in 2011, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation penalized Armenia for failing to enact political reforms, the European Union compensated with an augmented aid package and is currently negotiating a free trade accord.

It is now up to Armenia to choose which direction it wishes to go: Will it join the West and a community of democracies and liberal economies, or will Sargsyan tilt Armenia more toward a Kremlin-led community of increasingly autocratic former Soviet states.

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Topics: Elections

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. wjmccartan

    Whichever way Armenia tilts, let's just hope that it's not toward NATO and the greedy West. We need more neutral and far less pro-Western satellite states!

    February 15, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Thank you, wjmccartan. I was about to say the same thing.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Armenia's economy experienced several years of double-digit growth before a sharp downturn set in in 2008, after Sargsyan took over after a disputed election. The problems were aggravated by a trade blockade imposed by neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan since the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. It's highly likely that Sargsyan would dance at two weddings, trying to extract gains both from Russia and the EU, for himself and his entourage.

        February 18, 2013 at 5:19 am |
  2. Concerend Armenian

    Let's hope Armenia tilts fully towards Russia. As the spirit of this blatant anti-Armenian propaganda appearing in this state-controlled propaganda outlet shows, Armenia needs to stay as far away from the political West as possible – for its survival.

    February 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • Amerigahye

      If history serves us well, and it does, the last time Armenia was aligned with Russia, it was a part of of the Soviet Union, which was a massive success. The time before that, Armenian troops were pitted against their own fighting against Turkey, resulting in justification of GENOCIDE.

      Perhaps if Armenia learned how to stand on its own, instead of fortifying the pockets of its corrupt leaders and neighbors, it wouldn't have to align with the Kremlin, or the West.

      Armenia leaning toward the Kremlin only goes against its credibility. There IS no anti-Armenian propaganda, this is NOT a state-controlled propaganda outlet. Perhaps it's hard to see that from a soviet armenia outlook, especially if you were not fortunate enough to enjoy these united states. Those who are, unmistakably see how far Armenia has gone down the road of self destruction. The Kremlin will be the last nail in Armenia's coffin.

      February 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
      • Vahagn

        In fact, while saying "Hope that Armenia tilts towards the West" you do not care about what will happen afterwards.

        As an example I can recall the so-called "Meghri proposal" made by US officials in 1992 to help for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The idea wast to swap t the stretch of Armenian territory that separates Nakhchivan from the rest of Azerbaijan, called the Meghri strip, in exchange for Nagorno-Karabakh.
        To force thousands of citizens of Meghri and neighboring villages to move? Or did they expect that in 1992 Azerbaijanians would not kill them if they'd remained? The highest level of cynicism and/or ignorance.

        The claim of the article is cynical as well. If Armenia "tilts to the West" in Nagorno Karabakh suddenly! will happen something similar to the Georgian War. President Sargsyan knows this, Aliyev knows this, Putin knows this. Everybody knows this except... you? C'mon. You just don't care with usual cynicism of the "community of democracies and liberal economies"!!!

        February 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
      • turkey is a bird

        I have been enjoying this united states all my life, have u had a chance to enjoy the Soviet States? the states that put it in turkey and this united states, and don't forget Soviet Union didn't collapse, it only shed its Mongol and turkik hordes in east and Nazi states in west.
        Armenia stands with Russia has been will always,

        February 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Tim

        Free and misguided are two separate issues. Need I remind you that as you are having an open discussion on a forum maintained by that free western media. No one has removed your postings regardless of what they think of them.

        February 15, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
      • Vahagn

        Tim, I don't believe that you have ever tried to discuss something on Russian or Armenian official forums and still are speaking so. Even if there's a censorship, they only remove the meaningless and offensive comments.

        February 16, 2013 at 6:03 am |
      • Vahagn

        turkey is a bird,
        in contrast to US, that "Mongol and turkik hordes in east and Nazi states in west" recognized the obvious fact of Armenian Genocide ;)

        February 16, 2013 at 6:13 am |
    • Armenian 1

      Never ever Armenia should follow Russia! USA is our salvation!

      February 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  3. Concerend Armenian

    @ Amerigahye

    I just read your utter nonsense and I'm sad to say, I am not surprised... Brain dead Americans like you prove to me that one has to search the remotes of the Arabian desert or the deepest of the African jungle to find a tribe as self-destructive and as politically illiterate as American-Armenians. As far as I'm concerned, you are a brainwashed zombie and there is no sense in talking sense to you. I just pray that your kind stays put and sinks with the ship...

    February 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • Armen Illuminator Manukyan

      I just PRAY that your KIND stays put and sinks with the ship... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself or 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Mark 12:31. That's very christian of you.
      Armen (Atheist)

      February 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Knar M.

      When you carry hatred for your own kind, it's time to diagnose what ails you. If you are a mole, as I hope you are, get a more ethical job, before the bad vibes rock you to self destruction.

      February 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  4. Armen Illuminator Manukyan

    Let's hope Armenia tilts towards educated secular Europe like Scandinavian countries, far far away from religious fundamentalist countries like Russia and U.S.A

    February 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • Mane

      I agree with you

      February 16, 2013 at 5:33 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      Gee Armen, you must be another ignorant Tea Partier. That post is above quite stupid. Of course the right-wingers in Washington agree with you since they want to increase their power!

      February 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  5. Vahagn

    In fact, while saying "Hope that Armenia tilts towards the West" you do not care about what will happen afterwards.

    As an example I can recall the so-called "Meghri proposal" made by US officials in 1992 to help for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The idea wast to swap t the stretch of Armenian territory that separates Nakhchivan from the rest of Azerbaijan, called the Meghri strip, in exchange for Nagorno-Karabakh.
    To force thousands of citizens of Meghri and neighboring villages to move? Or did they expect that in 1992 Azerbaijanians would not kill them if they'd remained? The highest level of cynicism and/or ignorance.

    The claim of the article is cynical as well. If Armenia "tilts to the West" in Nagorno Karabakh suddenly! will happen something similar to the Georgian War. President Sargsyan knows this, Aliyev knows this, Putin knows this. Everybody knows this except... you? C'mon. You just don't care with usual cynicism of the "community of democracies and liberal economies"!!!

    February 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  6. Robert

    Armenia is pursuing close economic and military ties with Russia and trying to utilize western experience in reforming its soviet era judicial and economic spheres. It can be called a complimentary policy which has served them well without upsetting either Russia or Western nations. In Fact, Georgia's newly elect Prime Minister expressed its readiness to implement the same policy in Georgia.
    Serge Sargsyan clearly wants to have a clean election simply because it will give him legitimacy and the ability to approach Western nations for more aid and assistance.
    I think this is a good policy. This is a way to get the best of what the two worlds (Russia and Europe) have to offer without upsetting any party.

    February 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • Vahagn

      +1

      February 16, 2013 at 5:49 am | Reply
  7. Ferhat Balkan

    Armenia was ranked 2nd worst economy in the world. This is no big surprise to anyone, as they blame everyone else but themselves for their troubles. Which way will Armenia tilt? The same direction it always has: They'll never cease being Russia's lapdog. By the way, Greece is headed in the same direction. There is only one way they'll ever dig themselves out of the hole: Stop living in the past and blaming others!

    February 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • bark

      Armenia has neither oil, nor access to sea. Two of its neighbors have even vowed to continue the genocide they committed in the early part of the 20th century, and have tried by blocking its borders. Armenians remain defiant by using their genetic intelligence and entrepreneurship to continue existing next to their warmongering neighbors.

      February 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  8. Dave

    Ferhat-
    Your dictator Aliev might not approve of you writing in free Western press. He might find out and tape you intimate affair with your goat and use it against you. You follow what your dictator says and don't meddle in people's intelligent conversations here.

    February 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • Harutik

      I appreciate your effort in trying to put the Turk in his place, but please realize that there is no such thing as "free Western press". Every single mainstream news org in America and Britain for instance is a propaganda outlet and a government mouthpiece propagating a Western political agenda around the world. Never trust the Western press for it is as anti-Armenian as Western officials!

      PS: it's very interesting that Turks and "America-hye"s are the ones most susceptible to agree with these types of virulently anti-Armenian artciles...

      February 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      "free Western press" , Dave ???If it were the case, we would not be in a permanent state of war.

      February 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Reply
    • Vahagn

      Dave, I don't think it's a good idea to argue with Turks. The aim of their messages(and this one also) is to provoke a butthurt in comments thus making them meaningless. IMHO, the best thing one can do is just ignoring them.

      February 16, 2013 at 5:56 am | Reply
  9. rightospeak

    Armenia will most likely tilt towards Russia for its own benefit. The West and IMF will suck them up dry and enslave them throiugh DEBT and usury. I met a lot of smart Armenians and let us hope they will use their smarts to benefit the Armenians in Armenia. They need to watch the enslavement of East Europeans though sellout of their industries , Globalist Agenda that result in huge unemployment , loss of sovereignty, big debts and trumph of usury.

    February 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • Tim

      Armenia will continue to tilt toward Russia because they don't have any other realistic options, but that doesn't mean they won't still get sucked dry. Russia owns 70% of Armenian industry through debt-for-property swaps. The industry that Russia does own stays dormant because Russians realize that it's not good business to invest in a country that's under economic blockade.

      February 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
      • rightospeak

        Armenia needs to get those industries back without foreign investment and develop them, Tim. Foreign investments usually mean foreign control and money leaving Armenia. The problem in all post Communist countries are property rights and quick transfer of property to people which was stolen from them under Communism. The sooner that is accomplished , the faster Armenia will prosper. Think community development, regional development and NOT Communism or Globalism ( just another form of international robbery).

        February 16, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Quigley

      Very well said, rightospeak. Thank you.

      February 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  10. Sam

    Many Armenians get to US by fabricated falsified stories and then start some crimnal activity, like for ex. this team consisting og over 200 Armenians:http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-16/justice/california.armenian.power_1_armenian-power-bank-fraud-authorities-crack?_s=PM:CRIME
    Armenians get residence status outside of Armenia (in USA, EU, Russia) by claiming that they are victims of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Like this criminal of Armenian origin who lied that he is a victim of armenian "pogroms" in Baku ,and his father was burned alive in front of his eyes, and later on it was found out his father is alive and happily living in Moscow.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/russian/international/2013/02/130208_us_kazaryan_sentence.shtml

    February 16, 2013 at 11:16 am | Reply
  11. Sam

    Sargsyan transformed Armenia in lawless state : members of opposition are either murdered as it was in 2008 or eliminated http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/229577/337890_en.html;

    journalists disappear or get beatenhttp://www.jnews.am/en/node/1197;

    Freedom of speech does not exists in Armeniahttp://unzipped.blogspot.se/2012/04/civil-protest-more-like-mob-rule.html

    Military junta s ruling in the country according to peace activist G, Vanyan. See Wikileaks.eg http://massispost.com/archives/4097;

    February 16, 2013 at 11:18 am | Reply
  12. Sam

    S.Sargsyan brother, taxi driver, came to US to open a casino – he had with him 200 mln US $.

    S. Sargsyans another brother insults and bits jornalistshttp://www.armtown.com/news/en/a1p/20110516/2011051627/;
    S. Sargsyans nephew is criminal and has never been brought to justice http://www.tert.am/en/news/2011/02/08/wikileakscrime/

    February 16, 2013 at 11:19 am | Reply
  13. Sam

    Armenia´s president S. Sargsyan has main responcibility for Khojaly genocide http://justiceforkhojaly.org/site/?p=khojaly_photos

    He even recognized it in his interview to T. de Waal: "Before Khojali, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]." "Sarkisian's account throws a different light on the worst massacre of the Karabakh war, suggesting that the killings may, at least in part, have been a deliberate act of mass killing as intimidation." (Thomas de Waal, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war", New York & London: New York University Press, 2003, pp. 169-172)

    It is not surprising that Armenians are fleeing the country.There is no hope for them that any democratic changes will be introduced eventually. There is also no help from Armenian diaspora, which is so blinded by hatred toward Azeris and Turks that they would rather spend their money on turcophob propaganda on myth about arm "gen" than on helping Armenia.

    February 16, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
  14. Sam

    And about Russias position: Putin iis spending billions on weapon for Armenia – Russians produce it – Armenia gets if for free.
    At the same time there are many poor and very poor people in Russia, In my opinion Putin would better sell arms to Armenia and gave those money to poor.

    February 16, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
    • Gina

      Calm down at last for the sake of your own health.

      February 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  15. please transelate and pass to the FBI, CIA AND those who care

    وردنا خبرا مؤكدا مفاده ما يلي :
    المجرم واثق البطاط يتواجد حاليا في مدينة الشعله – في بيت يقع في نهاية شارع (60) بداية منطقة الدوانم مع مجموعه من المجرمين من المليشيات التابعه لفيلق القدس الايراني وينطلق من مدينة الشعله لتنفيذ عمليات الاغتيال في مناطق الغزاليه والسيديه والعامريه وبدعم لوجستي من مكتب القائد العام للقوات المسلحه

    تعليقنا //
    اين مذكرة القاء القبض بحق هذا الارهابي يا مالكي وهو لايبعد عن مقرك في المنطقه الخضراء اكثر من 15 كيلومتر ومليشياتك وجيشك الاجرامي يحاصر احياء الاعظميه والعامريه والسيديه لكي يتحرك هذا المجرم وعصابات فيلق القدس لقتل الابرياء وتصفية المطالبين بحقوقهم المشروعه ,,,....,,,,

    February 18, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply

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