Armenia may now sign on to the Moscow-led Eurasian Union by the end of April, roughly a month before neighboring Georgia is slated to enter a free-trade and political pact with the European Union. The signings of both agreements have been expedited as the competition for the South Caucasus picks up speed between Russia and Europe.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is scheduled to travel to Belarus on April 29 for a meeting of the council of the Eurasian Union, an economic bloc roughly modeled by Moscow after (and against) the European Union. Armenian officials say that Sargsyan will sign an agreement in Minsk on Armenia’s joining the Customs Union, the flagship project of the Eurasian Union meant to create a shared economic space for Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and, Moscow hopes, more ex-Soviet states.
The new sign-on date is not a huge difference from the earlier deadline of May, but, apparently, as East-West ties deteriorate over Ukraine, someone feels the need to pick up the pace.
Wary of Ukraine-style pressure from Russia, the EU chiefs have been trying to fast-forward their plans with Georgia and Moldova. José Manuel Borroso, the president of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, is expected in Tbilisi in June to sign an association agreement, which includes a free trade deal, with Georgia.
Armenia chose the Eurasian Union over a closer association with the European Union, but Georgia has refused to have anything to do with this second "EU," which it sees as a plot to bring the Soviet Union back into business.
Their respective EU choices -- European or Eurasian -- are likely to place Georgia and Armenia in an awkward place, though. Accession to competing economic projects is likely to complicate trade between the neighbors.
Free trade with the EU does not impose new trade duties on Georgia, but the country will need to comply with the EU's production-safety regulations, which are expected to result in higher prices on Georgian goods.
The third South-Caucasus country, Azerbaijan, has opted to stay out of this EU rivalry. Unlike its natural resources-poor neighbors, Azerbaijan does not feel the need to align itself with any club to improve its economy. Oil and gas sales already are doing the trick.