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Moscow, Yerevan In Customs Union Talks


Belarus - Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev (R) of Russia and Tigran Sarkisian or Armenia meet in Minsk, 31May2013.

Belarus - Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev (R) of Russia and Tigran Sarkisian or Armenia meet in Minsk, 31May2013.

Armenia is holding negotiations with Russia on the possibility of its accession to new Russian-led unions of former Soviet republics, the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Ivan Volynkin, said on Monday.

Volynkin made clear that Moscow would welcome Armenian membership of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus Kazakhstan which President Vladimir Putin hopes will evolve into a broader Eurasian Union.

The diplomat spoke three days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his Armenian counterpart Tigran Sarkisian discuss the matter on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States meeting in Minsk.

“Armenia wants to participate in that [Customs Union] and we too consider that important. We just need to find the appropriate format of such cooperation,” Medvedev said at the start of the talks.

Sarkisian agreed, saying that he met with Viktor Khristenko, the Russian head of the union’s executive body, in Minsk to discuss a fresh memorandum on Armenia’s “integration” into the trade bloc. “There is an understanding that we need to urgently prepare that memorandum, agree it with the presidents and sign it,” he said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Sarkisian and Khristenko already signed an essentially non-binding memorandum in Yerevan on April 10. It says that Armenia and the Customs Union will seek to “develop interaction” in areas such as “simplification of trading procedures,” food safety, sanitary standards and product certification.

That document came as a further indication that the Armenian government has no plans to join the union and thus preclude an Association Agreement which is being negotiated with the European Union. Sarkisian has repeatedly argued against Armenia’s entry into the bloc before, citing the absence of common borders with any of its member states.

A spokesman for the Armenian premier, Harutyun Berberian, implied on Saturday that Sarkisian stands by his position on the issue. “Armenia is in special conditions -- in particular, it has no common border with the member states of the Customs Union -- and the Russian side also accepts this circumstance,” Berberian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “In this situation, we are only talking about finding a mutually acceptable format for cooperation between Armenia and the Customs Union.”

Ambassador Volynkin said, however, that full membership is one of the possibilities considered by Moscow and Yerevan. “Nothing has been decided yet on the format of integration,” he told reporters. “It could be an association or some partnership or membership. Any format is possible.

“These issues require a detailed discussion. Therefore I think it is premature to speak about the content of the negotiations.”

“I think that the Russian leadership would welcome Armenia’s entry into that structure,” Volynkin added, referring the customs and Eurasian unions.

President Serzh Sarkisian insisted after talks with Putin in March that the Kremlin is not pressuring Armenia to join the Customs Union despite intense media speculation to the contrary.

EU officials have made clear that Armenian membership of the union is “not compatible” with the Association Agreement.
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