Russia remains pleasantly surprised by the speed with which President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration is trying to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Customs Union, a senior diplomat said on Monday.
“I can tell you that Armenia is moving forward by leaps and bounds. Many did not expect that Armenia will be moving towards the Customs Union so fast,” Ivan Volynkin, the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, told journalists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a similar comment during his December 2 official visit to Armenia. “We are struggling to keep up with our Armenian partners,” Putin said, commenting on Yerevan’s accession talks with the union.
The talks began shortly after Sarkisian unexpectedly decided in August to join the Russian-led bloc at the expense of an Association Agreement with the European Union. Official Yerevan does not seem to have sought major commercial or other concessions from Moscow in the process. This has fuelled speculation that the Armenian foreign policy U-turn resulted not only from Russian pressure but Sarkisian’s desire to strengthen his hold on power, which can presumably be threatened by the Kremlin.
Shortly after the announcement of Sarkisian’s decision, the Armenian government set up two dozen working groups tasked with preparing for Armenia’s entry into the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The government approved last week a timetable for the implementation of a membership “roadmap” that was agreed with the three member states in December.
Yerevan appears to be keen to complete the accession process by May. Volynkin sounded cautious in that regard, saying that it is still not clear just when Armenia will become a full member of the union.