Seleznev, left, and his Armenian counterpart Armen Khachatrian
By Anna Saghabalian
Gennady Seleznev, speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, on Friday added his voice to domestic calls for Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union. Seleznev, who arrived in Armenia the previous night for a three-day official visit, said he will raise the issue with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders.
“The decision is yours, our union is open,” the State Duma speaker declared at a meeting with students and the faculty of a the Russian-language Slavic University in Yerevan. “I know that there is such a mood [in favor of the union] in your country as well. So I talked about it with the chairman of [the Armenian] parliament and I’ll be talking about it with your premier and president.”
However, a government press release on Seleznev’s meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian later in the day made no mention of the Russia-Belarus union. The Russian official is scheduled to meet with Kocharian on Sunday.
Kocharian has repeatedly opposed the idea of Armenia joining the union, strongly advocated by the Armenian Communist party and several other left-wing groups. He reaffirmed this stance in Brussels on Thursday, saying that Yerevan will continue to build its relations with Russia and Belarus within the framework of the CIS and the Collective Security Treaty.
The Communists last month rallied some ten thousands supporters to the streets of Yerevan in a bid to revive their long-running campaign for the union. A similar protest action was held on Friday. But only a few hundred activists braved a hot weather to attend the rally this time.
Communist leader Vladimir Darpinian said the fact that the demonstration took place during Seleznev’s visit is a “pure coincidence.” But he added that his party drew inspiration from the presence of Seleznev, who is also a Communist. “The visit is giving a new momentum to our movement and is instilling greater confidence in ourselves,” he told RFE/RL.
Seleznev said on arrival in Yerevan that, while political and military ties between the two countries are close, he is unhappy with the current level of Russian-Armenian economic cooperation. Economic issues were the main focus of his talks with Markarian, according to the government’s press office.