US Senate Hearing on Eurasian Partnership: What to Do With Belarus and Azerbaijan?

Sam Williams 08/06/2019

WASHINGTON, DC. November 15, 2013: The leading US lawmaker and the Eurasian watchers on Thursday expressed their concerns over the future of US/European dealing with countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan, ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in Vilnius later this month, TURAN’s Washington correspondent reports.

“Release the political prisoners!” Senator Chris Murphy, who leads the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on European Affairs, sent a surprise message to the Azeri government, adding that it would be “a very positive step” in a wake of lots of questions with respect to the elections in Azerbaijan.

Senator Murphy’s committee hosted top State Department officials and Eurasia analysts at the hearing on “A Pivotal Moment for the Eastern Partnership” to shed light on the countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus that might someday possibly join the EU.

Discussions focused on some do’s and don’ts for partners in order to get ‘treats’ at the summit, as the western diplomats work on in the form of various agreements that may or may not be signed.

The testifiers of the hearing, -- Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, Vice President of Atlantic Council Damon Wilson, as well as the Heritage Foundation analyst Ariel Cohen and Peterson Institute’s Anders Aslund raised their concerns about the Russian movements before the summit as they put it, Moscow “is doing everything possible to intimidate the countries to keep them from signing new trade, economic, and political accords with Brussels.”

“What does Armenia’s decision to join to the Customs Union mean for the prospect of 2015 and sometimes after for Azerbaijan to initial agreement with the EU?” senator Murphy asked suddenly.

Clearly, he added, Azerbaijan has “a long way to go, especially with recent reports on the quality of this last election… But the country, especially with their energy resources, will be a very important partner.”

Answering the question, Damon Wilson stated that the Vilnius summit would be about the next chapter of the European integration and “that’s not going to include Belarus and Azerbaijan in this particular chapter.”

“We don’t force the countries into the Euro Atlantic institutions -- it doesn’t reflect our principles. Both decisions reflect the societies, the countries and their leaders,” he said, adding, it’s clear that Belarus’ Lukashenko “is not the leader that will take his country to Europe.”

“We need to do what we can to support the democratic opposition, in very difficult circumstances.”

In Azerbaijan, he added, “there is quite strong interest in the relationship with the west.”

“It’s important to figure out how we’ll be able to engage the right way, without sacrificing our values and concerns about the development of democracy there.”

In the meantime, the analyst sad, while talking about the long-term diplomacy, the EU “needs to think about Belarus and Azerbaijan not as being left out in Vilnius”.

“Average Azeris and Belarusians think that their country is in a way that is not very different from where the Ukraine is today. We need to keep that perspective,” he emphasized.

Ariel Cohen, in his part, said the situation “is complicated” with Azerbaijan as the country, being a Shi’a secular in the region, is trying to pursue the western policy with its energy supplies.

“The problem with the initialing of the association agreement between Azerbaijan and EU was the reluctance of the EU of recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and concerns about the presidential elections,” he claimed adding, if Azeris and Europeans are willing to work on these differences out and if there is a progress in terms of the rule of law and democracy, it will be in the interest of the EU, Azerbaijan and USA that the association agreement will be moving forward.

In her speech, Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland said, while the six Eastern Partnership countries have responded in various ways to the EU’s offer to integrate into Europe’s common structures, the US “strongly supports the process as a key ingredient in our effort to cement a “Europe whole and free and at peace” – a shared policy goal of the US and EU member states since the Berlin Wall fell almost 25 years ago.”

Washington supports the sovereign right of these countries to choose their own future, and we welcome their closer relationship with the EU.

“I would note in this regard that any form of pressure to prevent sovereign states from pursuing greater integration with the EU, or any organization of their choosing, would contravene obligations under the OSCE Helsinki Principles and the Charter of Paris. The message we are sending in the neighborhood is that all countries benefit when their neighbors open their markets and become more stable and prosperous,” she said.

On Armenia, although President Sarkisian announced that his country would join the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, “which is incompatible with signing an Association Agreement” however both the EU and Armenia remain committed to pursuing a deeper relationship, and they are examining ways to continue this partnership.

“The US will also continue broad engagement with Armenia on Euro-Atlantic integration, including in the economic sphere.”

As for Azerbaijan, it is currently negotiating the contours of its own partnership track with the EU, and the US “continues to encourage Azerbaijan to build the democratic and economic institutions and conduct the reforms necessary for a deeper relationship with the Euro-Atlantic community.”

“We recognize that a democratic, prosperous and secure Azerbaijan will benefit not only the Azerbaijani people but also its neighbors,” she added