The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan reaffirmed their support for Armenia’s membership in their Customs Union but set no definite date for it at a meeting in Minsk late on Tuesday.
Viktor Khristenko, the head of the union’s executive body, reportedly said after the summit that they instructed his Eurasian Economic Commission to submit a draft accession treaty with Yerevan to them by June 1. He did not say when it could be signed.
According to the Itar-Tass news agency, Khristenko told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian and Kazakh counterparts will hold another summit in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on May 29. He said they will likely sign there an agreement to transform the Russian-led trade bloc into a Eurasian Economic Union.
Khristenko added that the three leaders praised the implementation of a “roadmap” to Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union that was agreed with them in December. But he said nothing about sweeping trade preferences sought by the Armenian government in the ongoing membership talks.
Yerevan has presented the union with a long list of imported goods which it wants to be exempted from considerably higher customs duties jointly enforced by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. President Serzh Sarkisian’s unexpected absence from the Minsk summit suggests that the negotiating parties have not yet reached an agreement on this key issue.
Opening the summit, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko made clear that he is against granting new member states “any special terms or statuses.” “I believe that this will be fair towards our countries, which have fully gone through, endured all stages of the integration process,” Lukashenko was quoted by the official BELTA news agency as saying.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev appeared to back this stance. “I agree that they … must carry out what we have gone through, the whole package,” Nazarbayev said, according to BELTA.
Landlocked Armenia is heavily dependent on imports, the bulk of them coming from countries other than Russia, Belarus or Kazakhstan. Analysts warn that the cost of living in the country will rise dramatically unless the Armenian authorities are allowed to continue levying existing low duties from foodstuffs and other key imported goods.