In what will be his first trip abroad after reelection, President Serzh Sarkisian will fly to Moscow early next week for fresh talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that could clarify the future of Russian-Armenian relations.
In separate statements released on Wednesday, the Kremlin and the Armenian presidential press service said Putin and Sarkisian will discuss on March 12 “development of integration processes” in the former Soviet Union along with bilateral ties.
This was an apparent reference to Moscow’s efforts to bolster links with friendly ex-Soviet states through the creation of new Russian-led structures, notably the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Moscow has clearly been pressing Yerevan to join the trade bloc which President Vladimir Putin hopes will eventually grow into a closely-knit Eurasian Union. Putin and Sarkisian repeatedly discussed the matter during talks held last year. They agreed in August to set up a Russian-Armenian task force that will explore ways of Armenia’s possible involvement in the Customs Union.
Armenian leaders have stopped short of pledging membership in the union in their public statements made to date. They have instead reaffirmed Yerevan’s desire to sign a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union before the end of this year.
DCFTA will be part of a comprehensive Association Agreement which is currently being negotiated. The EU’s foreign and security policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said through a spokeswoman in December that a possible Armenian entry into the Customs Union “would not be compatible” with the Association Agreement.
Sarkisian’s trip to Moscow could also yield an agreement on the new price of Russian natural gas delivered to Armenia. Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said in late January that Russian-Armenian talks on the matter have entered “the final phase.”
The Armenian press has been rife with speculation in recent months that the Russian gas price for Armenia was secretly raised in 2012 and will go up further soon. Some local commentators have suggested that the Armenian government sold its 20 percent stake in the domestic gas distribution network to Russia’s Gazprom giant to ensure that Armenian consumers are unaffected by the price hike until the February 2013 presidential election. Movsisian and his deputies have denied that.
In addition, Putin and Sarkisian could discuss a new Russian-Armenian defense agreement which is expected to be signed soon. The agreement reportedly envisages joint production and repair of weapons. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and chief of the armed forces staff, General Valery Gerasimov paid separate visits to Yerevan earlier this year.
Konstantin Zatulin, a Russian pundit close the Kremlin, said on Monday that the agenda of Sarkisian’s upcoming trip to Moscow will be “quite loaded.” “The visit will not have a protocol character,” Armenian news agencies quoted him as saying.