Differences emerged between Armenia and Russia over Moscow’s controversial immigration scheme as the intergovernmental committee of the two former Soviet allies met in Yerevan on Friday.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) began operating its Compatriots program in Armenia in 2009 and has reportedly attracted hundreds of Armenian families since then. First launched in 2006, the Russian government’s scheme offers employment, accommodation and financial benefits to married residents of former Soviet republics willing to settle in Russia. Originally designed for “former countrymen” who had lost ties with the homeland, Russia, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the program also serves the purpose of addressing Russia’s growing demographic problems.
Addressing an opposition lawmaker’s concerns in parliament on October 3, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian called the realization of the Russian program in Armenia in its present format “unacceptable”. He said it was a matter for discussion “at all levels” with Russian counterparts.
Through its ambassador in Yerevan earlier this week Russia downplayed Armenia’s renewed concerns that the program is encouraging emigration from the tiny South Caucasus nation facing demographic problems of its own.
Moscow repeated that the program concerned only a small number of people and, in fact, controlled such a vital aspect of relations between the two countries as “illegal migration”.
After the Yerevan meeting co-chaired Prime Minister Sarkisian and Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, Russian Ambassador to Armenia Vyacheslav Kovalenko informed RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the Compatriots program was also discussed at the meeting, but the sides remained at their original positions. The diplomat did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Ambassador to Russia Oleg Yesayan, who also attended the meeting, said that the differences that emerged were even recorded in the document drawn up upon the completion of the meeting.
“The sides remained at where they stood before. This means that the Russian side put down in the meeting minutes that Russia was interested in the implementation of the program. The Armenian side registered that it was categorically opposed to the implementation of this program,” said Yesayan.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) later on Friday, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shavarsh Kocharian said that the Russian immigration program will not be implemented in the territory of Armenia.
“It is Armenia that decides the operations in its territory, and since Armenia has very clearly expressed its position, naturally the program cannot be implemented,” said the deputy minister.
The official, however, avoided giving specific dates when the operation of the Compatriots program in Armenia will stop.
Recently, Russia officially announced that it was expanding and simplifying the terms of the Compatriots program after setting the goal of annually ensuring up to 300,000 immigrants to Russia primarily from former Soviet states.