Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will meet his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in Moscow next week for talks that are expected to touch upon his controversial efforts to create a Russian-led “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet republics.
The Kremlin said that the two men will discuss on Wednesday “key issues of bilateral cooperation in politics, trade, the economy and humanitarian sphere.”
“In addition, the meeting’s agenda includes cooperation between Russia and Armenia in the framework of Eurasian integration processes, in particular in the [Commonwealth of Independent States and the [Collective Security Treaty Organization,] as well as topical issues on the international and regional agenda, including the situation in the South Caucasus,” it added in a statement.
Sarkisian’s press office announced the meeting in a separate statement. It said the Armenian leader will interrupt his summer vacation to fly to Moscow on August 8. The office said nothing about the agenda of the talks.
The announcements came amid Armenian media speculation that Yerevan is under growing pressure from Moscow to promise Armenia’s accession to the future Eurasian Union.
Sergei Naryshkin, the Russian State Duma speaker close to Putin, publicly promoted the Kremlin’s “Eurasian project” when he visited the Armenian capital last week. Naryshkin said the Armenian leadership is now “seeking to determine its place in this project.”
While remaining committed to close political, military and economic ties with Russia, the Armenian government is understood to be cool towards the idea of the union that was floated by Putin in a newspaper article last fall. The powerful Russian leader said the ex-Soviet alliance would be built around the existing customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Sarkisian’s government has explicitly ruled out membership in the customs union, arguing that Armenia has no common border with any of its member states. It is instead keen to negotiate far-reaching “association” and free trade agreement with the European Union, Armenia’s leading trading partner.
“Russia is the biggest foreign investor and one of Armenia’s main trading partners: the accumulated volume of Russian investments exceeded $2.8 billion in January-May 2012, and bilateral trade amounted to $434.8 million,” noted the Kremlin statement.
Armenian commentators say the alleged Russian pressure could manifest itself in ongoing negotiations between Yerevan and the Gazprom energy conglomerate on the price of Russian natural gas delivered to Armenia. Gazprom is reportedly threatening to sharply raise it, a move that would hit hard a large part of the country’s population ahead of a presidential election due next February.
There is also lingering speculation that Putin is more sympathetic to Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian than to the current Armenian president. Kocharian is known to have repeatedly met Putin in Moscow (most recently on March 15) since leaving office in 2008.
In a May interview with the Mediamax news agency, the ex-president noted his “particular mutual understanding” and “continuous relations” with Putin. He also again did not rule out his return to the political arena.
Incidentally, the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the country’s second most important parliamentary force, voiced support for the Eurasian Union last month. The BHK is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman who is believed to have close ties with Kocharian.