The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan approved on Tuesday a “roadmap” to Armenia’s accession to their Customs Union which a senior Russian official said should be completed by next May.
Speaking at their summit held in Moscow, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the same time expressed reservations about Armenian membership related to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“The question of the Custom Union’s border, where it will pass in Armenia, remains open. Therefore, we will sign the roadmap with the colleagues but with a special opinion that will be reported [to the Armenian side],” Nazarbayev said at a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Nazarbayev referred to Armenia’s border with the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the absence of any Armenian customs posts there. Armenian leaders have assured the domestic public that they will not tax goods coming from Karabakh even after joining the Russian-led trade bloc. Some of them have implied that Moscow has promised to turn a blind eye to what would be a breach of the union’s common trade rules.
Nazarbayev clearly feels more strongly about Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. As recently as on August 16, he backed a Karabakh settlement “within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders” in a joint declaration adopted at a summit of Turkic-speaking states in Azerbaijan.
The Kazakh leader did not clarify whether putting customs checkpoints on Armenian roads leading to Karabakh is a necessary condition for Armenian entry into the Customs Union.
The heads of the union’s three member states were joined by President Serzh Sarkisian, his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov at a separate session held later in the day. Putin did not comment on the sensitive Karabakh issue as he spoke at that meeting. He praised instead “the high degree of preparedness of our Armenian partners for the adoption of obligations within the framework of our integration project.”
“The presidents signed the roadmap to Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union and determined time frames,” Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters afterwards. “Armenia stated that it will be seeking to shorten those time frames.”
“We believe we will need half a year to conduct all inspections and see how prepared Armenia’s institutions are for this reorganization and receive a guarantee that they are adequate Customs Union institutions,” Shuvalov said.
Dozens of Armenian economic laws and regulations are due to be amended and brought into conformity with the union’s legislation as a result. This process should be complete in time for the trade bloc’s transformation into a Eurasian Economic Union of ex-Soviet states seen by Kremlin critics as an attempt to recreate the Soviet Union. Sarkisian plans to make Armenia part of that union as well.
Putin announced on Tuesday that he, Nazarbayev and Lukashenko worked out “the key principles” of the Eurasian Union’s founding treaty and plan to sign it by May 1, 2014. “The treaty will then be submitted to the parliaments of our countries for ratification so that the Eurasian Economic Union can start functioning in full from January 1, 2015,” he said.