The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian has underlined its apparent support for a “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet republics by sponsoring an international youth conference on the controversial idea promoted by Russia.
The five-day conference, co-organized by the BHK and the Moscow-based Eurasian Youth Forum, began its work in the Armenian resort town of Tsaghkadzor on Thursday. It is attended by some 600 young people from around the former Soviet Union.
Among the participants are three activists of the ruling United Russia Party. One of them, Andrei Smirnov, is also the chairman of the Eurasian Cooperation Fund.
Smirnov said on Friday that the main purpose of the Tsaghkadzor forum is to explain the wisdom of setting up the Eurasian Union to young activists from ex-Soviet states. He said the organizers would like to set up a “joint information network” for them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of the Eurasian Union in a newspaper article published late last year. Putin appears to have pressed harder for its creation after returning to the Kremlin in April.
Armenia’s political leadership is understood to be reluctant to pledge membership of the union regarded by critics as an attempt to recreate the USSR. By contrast, the BHK, which boasts the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, indicated last month that it supports Putin’s idea in principle.
“Armenia is acting like an observer. We are still examining things,” Vahe Enfiajian, head of the BHK’s youth wing, told a joint news conference with Smirnov.
Enfiajian insisted that the Russian-led union would not thwart Armenia’s efforts to forge closer ties with the European Union and the United States. “We have no problem with the West,” he said. “We cooperate in the same way with various youth organizations from Europe. We believe that Armenia should conduct a flexible policy and participate in various international political processes.”
“It doesn’t mean that if cooperation in this format succeeds in the future, the doors to Europe will be closed,” he added.
Stepan Safarian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party strongly objecting to the union, dismissed those assurances. He said European diplomats have made clear that joining the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which Putin regards as the backbone of the Eurasian Union, would preclude the establishment of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” between the EU and Armenia.
“In this sense, Armenia’s orientation towards the Eurasian Union could have very serious geopolitical consequences for Armenia,” Safarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Safarian also criticized the BHK for organizing the Tsaghkadzor event. He said Tsarukian’s party, which was part of Armenia’s governing coalition until May, is thereby demonstrating that “there is one Armenian political force ready to take Armenia to the Eurasian Union.”