Armenia’s route to EU

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a high-level meeting between the EU, the US and Armenia to support Armenia's resilience in Brussels,

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a high-level meeting between the EU, the US and Armenia to support Armenia's resilience in Brussels.

© picture alliance / Anadolu | Nicola Landemard

On March 13, the European Parliament passed a resolution on closer ties between the EU and Armenia. It included a call for considering Armenia’s EU membership bid.

The resolution came as a reply to several remarks made by key Armenian officials. One such remark was made by the Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan in the European Parliament in October 2023, where he expressed Armenia’s readiness to move closer to the EU as much as possible.

In March 2024 Ararat Mirzoyan, Foreign Minister of Armenia, said that Armenia considers to seek an EU membership. Shortly after this statement, Armenian PM Pashinyan met with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, Joseph Borell, in Brussels on April 5, 2024. The outcome was the pledge to support Armenia’s resilience and growth plan for 2024-2027 by investing in connectivity, resilience and business development with the amount of 270 million EUR.

Amidst the strained Armenian-Russian relations, currently at their lowest point since 1991, Armenia has started to rethink its foreign policy. Yet, a valid question arises: is Armenia ready to implement the steps on the roadmap to membership?

Attitude towards EU in Armenia

A recent public opinion survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Armenia shows that the public attitude towards Armenia-EU relations has become more positive. From 54% in 2021, it went up to 87% in December 2023. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia are leading the list when it comes to the countries perceived as the greatest political and economic threats to Armenia.

The EU is Armenia's primary international donor, supporting projects in the fields of agriculture, energy, tourism, science, technology, and so on. The EU has a positive image among the Armenians, as many EU projects have tangible results in the Armenian communities, be it in energy efficiency, agriculture, or other fields.

Hence, a deeper integration with the EU is seen as offering concrete results, such as expanded business opportunities or freedom of movement. Such integration also presents opportunities to diversify Armenia’s foreign policy and reduce overall dependence on Russia. Specifically, as part of an economic-political union Armenia would stand to gain access to a vast market, enabling it to export its products and import goods. Furthermore, it would enhance food security and reduce reliance on single major market.

Armenia’s current security situation

The 2020 Karabakh war and subsequent occupation of some flocks of land in Armenia proper by Azerbaijan revealed the inadequacy of the previous security architecture. Despite being a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and having a treaty on mutual aid with Russia, Armenia found itself without any assistance when under attack. The CSTO and Russia cited the uncertainty regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. However, the border’s clarity is established by the Almaty declaration, which recognizes territorial integrity based on the Soviet borders after the collapse of the USSR. Armenia has ‘frozen’ its membership in CSTO by not participating in its activities since 2023, including both regular sessions and military exercises.

Additionally, in September 2023, Azerbaijan initiated a military assault on the territory of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, leading to its dissolution and de facto ethnic cleansing of the Armenians who had lived there for centuries. Russia's inactivity during those recent and previous events left the Armenian government and the general public with the impression that Russia is unable and unwilling to fulfil its obligations[1].

It was revealed that Russia, Armenia’s leading military arms provider, didn’t deliver arms for which Armenia had already paid 400 million USD. Armenia’s leadership started to look for alternatives to strengthen the country’s security. Armenia’s arms providers now include India and France, and negotiations are underway with Greece. In September 2023, the US and Armenia organized military drills entitled Eagle Partner 2023 amid Armenia’s refusal to take part in military drills of CSTO in Belarus in the same month.

Azerbaijan currently occupies around 170 sq. km of land in Armenia proper. The bellicose rhetoric of Azerbaijani President Aliyev suggests that no peace agreement is on the horizon for the near future, rather a considerable risk of another Azerbaijani attack. Russian and Azerbaijani remarks indicate so, pushing Armenia for a corridor linking Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhijevan based on the 2020 ceasefire agreement. However, the latter is de facto void, given numerous violations of its significant points by Russia and Azerbaijan in the last three years.

Despite security environment challenges on the EU integration path, any EU support for Armenia can be a bold signal to deter Azerbaijan’s actions. Notably, the EU civil mission in Armenia (EUMA) will continue until February 2025, signalling its potential prolongation beyond the current agreement. Since October 2022, the EU has been assisting with a civilian observation mission on the Armenian side of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The EUMA has deployed around 200 civilian observers, who patrol the roughly 1000 km-long border on a daily basis. Since the deployment of the mission, the military tensions along the border have decreased substantially, except for the recent escalation in February 2024 when Azerbaijani troops killed four Armenian soldiers. This happened in an area where the EUMA had no access, as Russian border control troops were present and prevented the EU observers from moving further. This highlights the significance of the EUMA's role from a security perspective. Thus, even being primarily a political-economic union, the EU’s mission in Armenia has yielded tangible security results.

Armenia’s European economic integration possibilities

The EU-Armenia relationship is currently regulated by the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which entered into force in 2021. It is a platform to deepen ties with Armenia and support reform efforts in various areas such as human rights, justice, energy, health, environment, agriculture, tourism, innovation, etc. As a result, adherence to standards could enable Armenia to enter the EU market and get more European goods into Armenia. However, Armenia’s current membership to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) creates obstacles for a deeper integration with the EU. Specifically, adherence to the EAEU procedures and legislative changes deepens the dependence on the EAEU and creates protective measures against external influences. In other words, Armenia cannot be a member of both unions. To fully integrate with the EU, Armenia needs to leave the EAEU eventually.

At the moment this would be a difficult task for Armenia, as it heavily relies on Russian natural gas and oil, as well as essential goods like grain. Landlocked Armenia, having closed borders with two of its four neighbours, is in a vulnerable position due to its economic dependence on Russia. Additionally, Armenia’s huge circular labour migration to visa-free Russia creates another overdependence on it, with over half of remittances coming from Armenian migrants working there. Moreover, the Armenian export to Russia accounted to 41% in 2023 (mainly agricultural products), while the Armenia-EU trade constituted only to 13% share. This situation illustrates how challenging it would be to make hefty moves against the EAEU.

Years ago Armenia was on the path of deepening relations with the EU by signing an Association Agreement at the same time as Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova in 2013 did. However, at the last moment, the Armenian government made a U-turn and started the EAEU integration. This decision was preceded by Russian blackmailing actions regarding energy, trade, and other matters.

Russia will once again blackmail Armenia, probably in the energy sector, where Armenia is heavily dependent on Russia. Russia sells natural gas to Armenia for 165 USD per thousand cubic meters, the cheapest price in the region. Moreover, Russian Gazprom owns Armenia's internal gas supply network. The Russian Railroad owns the railroad of Armenia since 2008 for a period of 30 years based on the Armenian-Russian concession agreement. A number of strategically important Armenian entities such the electric network in Armenia or the Hrazdan Thermal Power Plant are under the control of companies with Russian capital.

The March 13 European parliament resolution takes the possibility of Russian blackmailing into account. It also “believes that the EU needs to be ready to provide rapid assistance to Armenia to mitigate the negative consequences” of any such steps.

A “rapid assistance” plan could aim to minimize any damage if Russia would make use of its economic leverage against Armenia. Russia could employ several tactics against Armenia, such as halting natural gas supply for undefined time (and call it ‘maintenance works’), raising gas prices for Armenia, or limiting the delivery of essential products like grain. Such “unfriendly” steps by Russia may coincide with the peak of the gas and electricity consumption in Armenia, starting in the fall of 2024.

Measures to address these scenarios were discussed at an April 5 meeting in Brussels, specifically focusing on energy and food security. At this point it is uncertain how the US-EU pledge to support Armenia may work. However, it is obvious that building up Armenia’s resilience requires huge financial and time efforts. It would be advisable that a plan B is already on spot and can be executed in case of negative developments.

A key development towards a possible Armenian EU membership is Georgia’s attainment of candidate status for the EU membership, prompting the Armenian PM to emphasize the need for Armenia to reconsider its foreign policy approach. The EU integration process entails reforms in various sectors, including economy, trade regulations and others. The collaboration between Armenia and Georgia, facilitated by a common border and joint work, will enhance their ability to implement EU standards and reforms crucial for EU integration. This partnership will create a more interconnected region, increasing its attractiveness to the EU.

Armenia’s EU Aspirations and Russia

After the 2020 Karabakh war, Russia increased its presence in the region by deploying ‘peacekeepers’ in Nagorno-Karabakh region and some parts of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. However, it didn’t prevent or decrease the 2021 border escalations, when Azerbaijan occupied territories within Armenia. With the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia became even more reluctant to intervene in the interest of an Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization process. French President Macron even blamed Moscow for deliberately provoking clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan to destabilize the volatile region. A resolution under Russian mediation is impossible, because it is not interested in such developments; otherwise the Kremlin wouldn’t have its boots on the ground in the region.

Russia views any action of Armenia towards a Western mediation or deepening ties with the West as anti-Russian. When Armenia agreed to deploy the EU civilian mission, Russia saw it as a step to oust Russia from the region. Similarly, when the Armenian PM spoke about the country’s ‘frozen’ status at CSTO, Russia framed it as Western interference. Armenia is regarded as Russia’s backyard and must adhere to whatever Russia decides – a thinking that reflects the imperial nature of Russian policy towards Armenia.


The EU Parliament Resolution as well as the EU-USA-Armenia trilateral meeting provide a ground for deeper relations between Armenia and the EU. However, given the challenging security situation and strained Armenia-Russia relations, support to the landlocked South Caucasus country will be crucial if Russia decides to take steps, specifically in the field of energy. The EU should help Armenia in increasing its economic diversification (first and foremost in the energy sector), accelerating the EU visa liberalisation to provide more opportunities for people-to-people contacts, as well as facilitating streamlined procedures for Armenian products to access to the EU market. These points are urgent as Russia often uses economic pressure when ‘punishing’ an unfriendly ‘partner’. The usual ‘punishment tools’ are maintenance works on gas pipeline, or an increase of natural gas prices, or unexpectedly finding sanitary-hygienic violations in products imported to Russia.

Only by being less dependent on Russia, Armenia has a true opportunity to move towards EU candidacy. Armenia is ready to begin its road trip to the EU by putting more efforts on doing its homework of reform processes. Meanwhile, in such a difficult geopolitical security environment, the EU assistance is more than needed.


[1] Per the trilateral Armenian-Azerbaijani-Russian agreement of November 9, 2020, the Russian 'peacekeepers' stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh ought to protect civilians. However, when Azerbaijan attacked, they did not implement their primary task.