Citing the need to address Azerbaijan’s concerns, Kazakhstan set a last-minute political condition for Armenia’s membership in its Eurasian Economic Union with Russia and Belarus that was officially established by their presidents on Thursday.
The three leaders expressed readiness to sign an accession treaty with Yerevan next month at a meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana that was also attended by President Serzh Sarkisian. But Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the document must make clear that Armenia is joining the Russian-led union with its internationally recognized borders “so that we don’t agitate our friend in Azerbaijan.”
“This is how you joined the World Trade Organization,” Nazarbayev told Sarkisian. “There is a precedent. Let’s discuss it in the course of June.”
“We -- all the presidents -- have received a letter from the president of Azerbaijan to the effect that Armenia joined the WTO on the condition that [WTO] provisions should extend to Armenia within the framework of its international borders recognized by the United Nations. This needs to be discussed. We are not going to make decisions today,” Nazarbayev said in remarks broadcast live by Russian television.
Sarkisian did not object to the Kazakh leader’s demand. It is essentially aimed at ensuring that Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh is left out of the new union.
In theory, this means that Armenia will have to set up customs posts on its border with the disputed territory and apply the union’s unified customs duties to products imported from Karabakh. Armenian leaders have repeatedly ruled out such a possibility. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian insisted as recently as on May 16 that Armenia and Karabakh will remain a “single economic territory” in any case.
Sarkisian did not mention the sensitive issue as he addressed the Astana summit before Nazarbayev’s remarks. Instead, he urged Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to sign the accession treaty with Armenia by June 15. He said there are only “two or three” unresolved trade-related issues in Yerevan’s ongoing talks with the three member states. An agreement on them can be reached “in two or three days,” added the Armenian leader.
Nazarbayev, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko opted for a different deadline: July 1. “That document should be approved and signed very soon,” Putin told the press after the summit. “The Armenian side would like to do that as early as in June. On the whole, we agreed with that.”
“We hope that shortly after the launch of the union Armenia will become its full-fledged participant,” added Putin.
Sarkisian did not speak to journalists in Astana. The summit attended by him saw Putin, Nazarbayev and Lukashenko sign a treaty transforming the Customs Union of the three ex-Soviet states into the more closely-knit Eurasian Economic Union.
Speaking after the signing ceremony, Nazarbayev said allegations that the new bloc is meant to recreate the Soviet Union are not true. He insisted that it is a purely economic structure that will play a key role in the world's economic development.