It remained unclear on Friday whether Armenia’s political leadership will accept a last-minute condition for joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union demanded by Azerbaijan and publicly backed by Kazakhstan.
A top political ally President Serzh Sarkisian insisted only that Yerevan will not compromise continued Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, spoke of a “humiliation” suffered by Sarkisian at Thursday’s summit in the Kazakh capital Astana that saw the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan sign an agreement to establish the economic bloc. They pointed to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s remarks made at the summit.
Nazarbayev said that a separate accession treaty with Armenia must make an explicit reference to its internationally recognized borders. He said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev demanded this in a letter sent to the heads of the union’s three founding member states.
“This is how you joined the World Trade Organization,” Nazarbayev told Sarkisian. “There is a precedent.”
Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonian appeared to have denied Nazarbayev’s claim on Friday. “Our accession to the WTO [in 2003] did not affect de facto or formally or in any other way Armenia’s relations and projects with Nagorno-Karabakh,” Melkonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). In particular, he said, the WTO never required Armenia to set up customs checkpoints on its border with Karabakh.
Neither Sarkisian’s office nor the Armenian government clarified as of Friday evening whether Yerevan will accept the Kazakh precondition. The treaty signed by Nazarbayev, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko does not stipulate that their union will encompass the internationally recognized borders of their countries.
“I think that Aliyev’s letter will not have a fateful consequence for Armenia’s membership. I am confident that Armenia’s authorities will not make any decisions at the expense of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” said Education Minister Armen Ashotian, who is also a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“I believe that the issue of Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Union will be solved within the framework of our national interests and within time frames which were mentioned by the presidents in Astana yesterday,” Ashotian told reporters.
Opposition lawmakers were far less sanguine, expressing serious concern about Nazarbayev’s demand during parliamentary hearings held in Yerevan hours after the Astana summit drew to a close. One of them, former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian, argued that the treaty signed in the Kazakh capital does not address Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea condemned by the international community.
“We are concerned and don’t have answers,” said Arzumanian. “Why can’t we join, together with Nagorno-Karabakh, a union which Russia is joining with Crimea, a territory annexed from another state?”
Another opposition lawmaker, Naira Zohrabian, demanded on Friday that Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian personally give explanations to the Armenian parliament. Zohrabian, who chairs a parliament committee on European integration, claimed that Nazarbayev humiliated Armenia during the summit.
“It wasn’t humiliating at all,” countered Ashotian.