President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus has reiterated his apparent misgivings about Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EUU) comprising his country.
Lukashenko discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin late on Thursday in a phone call that reportedly focused on Russia’s decision to ban food imports from Europe and the United States in retaliation for Western economic sanctions.
“The heads of state also discussed cooperation within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and its enlargement,” Lukashenko’s press office said in a statement. “The position to the effect that Armenia’s accession to it must not occur to the detriment of the Customs Union’s interests was reaffirmed.”
The statement referred to the trade alliance of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is being transformed into the EEU. It gave no further details.
The Kremlin did not mention Armenian membership in the union among the issues discussed during Putin’s conversation with Lukashenko.
The Belarusian leader has repeatedly signaled misgivings about that membership over the past year. Some analysts believe that this one of the reasons why Armenia’s entry into the Russian-dominated bloc has been postponed at least until the end of this year.
Opening a Customs Union summit in Minsk in April, Lukashenko spoke out against granting new member states “any special terms or statuses.” He seemingly referred to significant trade preferences sought by the Armenian government. The latter wants to have hundreds of types of goods imported to Armenia exempted from much higher uniform customs duties set by the Customs Union.
Armenian Economy Minister Karen Chshmaritian insisted on Friday that Armenia and the union’s three member states have already worked out a list of around 800 such goods during the ongoing accession talks. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Chshmaritian said Yerevan therefore hopes to sign an accession treaty with the bloc as planned in October.
The Russian government formally approved the draft treaty on Thursday. The document is now due to be sent to Putin for final approval. It has yet to undergo similar procedures in Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In Chshmaritian’s words, the existing version of the draft accord does not require Armenia to start levying duties from goods imported from Nagorno-Karabakh and set up customs checkpoints for that purpose.
Citing concerns expressed by Azerbaijan, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has publicly demanded that the treaty make a special reference to Armenia’s internationally recognized borders that do not encompass Karabakh. This has raised further questions about the success of the Armenian membership bid.
Incidentally, Nazarbayev also spoke with Putin by phone on Thursday. According to the Kazakh leader’s office, they discussed, among other things, Putin’s meetings with Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev slated for Saturday. The talks are expected to touch upon the latest upsurge in deadly fighting in the Karabakh conflict zone.
The Kremlin did not mention the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute when it officially announced the talks on Friday. “Special attention will be paid to the process of Armenia’s accession to the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union,” it said of the Putin-Sarkisian meeting.