President Serzh Sarkisian will fly to Moscow early next week for fresh talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin which are expected to touch on Russian objections to Armenia’s integration with the European Union.
The Kremlin announced on Friday that Putin and Sarkisian will discuss, among other issues, “integration processes” in the former Soviet Union when they meet on Tuesday. It did not elaborate.
The Armenian presidential press office issued an identical statement on the talks.
The official sources clearly referred to Russia’s efforts to turn its customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan into a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union comprising more former Soviet republics. Putin and Sarkisian discussed the matter at three face-to-face meetings held between August 2012 and March 2013 amid mounting speculation about Russian pressure exerted on Armenia.
Yerevan made no public pledges to join the customs union after those talks. It only signed in April a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Eurasian Economic Commission, the union’s executive body based in Moscow.
The Sarkisian government also intensified negotiations with the European Union on a comprehensive Association Agreement that would bring Armenia much closer to the EU despite its close military and economic ties with Russia. The European Commission announced the “substantive completion” of those talks in July, making the agreement’s initialing at an EU summit slated for November all but a forgone conclusion.
EU officials have made clear that the association accord, which has a crucial free-trade component, is “not compatible” with Armenian membership in the Russian-led union.
Russian pundits loyal to the Kremlin have increasingly criticized Yerevan’s apparent desire to steer clear of the union in recent months. Russia’s former ambassador to Armenia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, added his voice to that criticism last month, in a further sign of Moscow’s discontent.
Another, serving Russian diplomat issued a similar warning this week. Aleksandr Vasilyev, the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan, compared the Association Agreement with infamous treaties that enabled the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to occupy several Eastern European states in 1938-1940.
In an apparent bid to allay Russian concerns, Sarkisian insisted on July 12 that the planned agreement is “not directed against any state or grouping of states.” The Armenian leader may well reiterate these assurances at the meeting with Putin. The latter, for his part, could make a last-ditch attempt to scuttle the Armenia-EU deal.
The Russian government has so far refrained from the kind of tough statements and punitive actions that are aimed at preventing another, much larger ex-Soviet state, Ukraine, from signing a similar deal with the EU. What is more, Russian-Armenian military cooperation has continued unabated and even seems to have deepened this year.
The Kremlin statement said that the two presidents will also discuss “security and stability in the Transcaucasus” as well as Russian-Armenian energy dealings. The Armenian government has been seeking financial assistance from Moscow to subsidize the recently increased price of Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on Thursday the two sides have already worked out key terms of such aid and will publicize them very soon. He would not say whether the gas price deal will take the form of a Russian loan or a handover of more Armenian energy assets to Russia’s Gazprom monopoly.