President Serzh Sarkisian underscored his subservience to Russia with his New Year’s message to the nation that touted Armenia’s impending accession to a Russian-led customs union, pro-Western opposition leaders claimed on Tuesday.
Sarkisian began the televised address by mentioning and stressing the importance of his unexpected decision last August to join the union at the expense of closer ties with the European Union. He expressed confidence that Yerevan will complete ongoing accession talks with the trade bloc comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2014.
Alexander Arzumanian, a leader of the recently revived Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), said the New Year’s message was primarily addressed to the Kremlin, rather than Armenians, comparing Sarkisian to a “naughty student who wants to somehow please his teacher.” Arzumanian suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin still distrusts his Armenian counterpart despite the latter’s foreign policy U-turn.
“These are attempts to restore trust,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said Sarkisian’s previous policy of European integration had caused a serious crisis in Russian-Armenian relations.
“This is further proof that the decision to join the customs union was foisted on Armenia. The Armenian authorities are now constantly forced to reaffirm their loyalty to Russia,” he said, accusing Moscow of treating Yerevan “like a slave.”
Armen Martirosian, the deputy chairman of Zharangutyun (Heritage), another opposition party favoring Armenia’s European integration, also deplored the key emphasis of Sarkisian’s speech. He reiterated Zharangutyun claims that Sarkisian had no popular mandate to make Armenia part of a trade bloc which is due to be transformed into a Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union by January 2015.
Martirosian also claimed, “This means that the value system espoused by the Armenian authorities totally corresponds to the value systems of the Customs Union’s member states. Putin, [Belarusian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko and [Kazakhstan’s Nursultan] Nazarbayev lead authoritarian regimes.”
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), rejected the opposition attacks. Sahakian said Sarkisian could not have failed to mention the Customs Union in his yearend remarks. He argued that the president also commented on other major developments of the past year.