Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev reportedly suggested on Thursday that Turkey become a member of a Russian-led alliance of former Soviet republics which Armenia plans to join.
Nazarbayev claimed that the Turkish government has expressed such a desire as he spoke at a summit meeting in Minsk of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. President Serzh Sarkisian also attended the meeting to reaffirm his recent controversial decision to make Armenia part of a trade bloc which Russia plans to transform into a Eurasian Union by 2015.
“Turkey’s Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has contacted me to ask whether Turkey could be part of the Customs Union,” Nazarbayev said, according to the Belarusian BelTA news agency.
“Turkey is a large country, we have a common border,” he was quoted as adding. “Critics would be silenced if we do that. Wherever I go in the West I get asked whether we are creating the Soviet Union or something to suit Russia. And I have to explain that we do nothing of the kind. So if we admit Turkey maybe such questions will stop.”
There was no immediate reaction to the Kazakh leader’s surprise remarks from Ankara. Turkey’s accession to the customs union looks problematic because of its hitherto different geopolitical priorities. Also, Ankara could be obliged to unconditionally open the Turkish-Armenian border should it decide to join the union.
Opening the Minsk summit, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko welcomed Armenian membership of the bloc in principle, the Regnum news agency reported. But he stressed that Yerevan should go through all accession procedures and assume membership obligations “without any exceptions.”
Lukashenko claimed earlier this week that Armenia’s entry into the bloc is still not a forgone conclusion as Sarkisian took only “a half step” in that direction last month. “There is too much uncertainty in this process,” he said.