Armenia and Belarus have pledged to complement their warm political rapport by building closer economic links, reduced to a trickle since the Soviet collapse. A treaty on "friendship and cooperation" signed in Yerevan on Saturday by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian calls for the expansion of relations between the two former Soviet republics.
The two leaders also presided over the signing of a package of intergovernmental agreements meant to facilitate Armenian-Belarusian cooperation in the areas of trade, education and legal affairs.
Lukashenko, in Yerevan on a two-day official visit, said he hopes that relations with Armenia will eventually become as close as they are now with Russia. But it was not clear if the flamboyant Belarusian leader, ostracized by the West for human rights abuses and a tight grip on power, hinted at Yerevan's membership of the Russia-Belarus union. The idea is ardently supported by some left-wing Armenian groups.
"For Belarus there are no closed topics of cooperation with the friendly and fraternal Armenian republic," Lukashenko declared at a joint news conference with Kocharian.
The two men took part in Friday's summit in the Armenian capital of Russia and five other former Soviet republics that are signatories to the Collective Security Treaty. They said cooperation within the CST framework is an important component of Armenian-Belarusian ties. Yerevan and Minsk last year signed an agreement on military cooperation, paving the way for mutual supplies of weapons and ammunition.
The two presidents said after their talks that they will now seek to put a greater emphasis on economic relations, which have declined substantially since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The volume of bilateral trade between Armenia and Belarus stood at a modest $2 million last year.
Lukashenko said the difference in the two countries' economic systems will not be an obstacle to commercial exchange. "Money has no smell, you just have to pay it," he argued.