President Serzh Sarkisian insisted late on Monday that Russia is not pressuring Armenia to join the Russian-led Customs Union of three ex-Soviet states and reiterated his government’s plans to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union this year.
“Do not believe those who say that the Russians are forcing us to become a member of the Customs Union,” Sarkisian told journalists. “There is no such thing. How long can this be repeated?”
“We can say the opposite. Members of the Customs Union do not yet have a desire to admit anyone. At least, I haven’t seen such a desire with regard to us,” he said.
Sarkisian at the same time repeated Yerevan’s interest in broader “integration processes” in the ex-USSR. “How can we link our military security with the Russian Federation and the Collective Security Treaty Organization but tie our political or economic fate to another country or union at the expense of the former?” he said.
The remarks came one week after Sarkisian’s fresh talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that were held near Moscow. The two leaders met amid continuing media speculation about Russian pressure on Yerevan over a trade bloc which Putin hopes will eventually develop into a Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics loyal to Moscow.
EU officials have made clear that membership of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan would preclude the signing of the Association Agreement that envisages, among other things, the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Armenian leaders have repeatedly expressed their intention to conclude the ongoing talks on that far-reaching accord in time for an EU summit in Vilnius in November.
Armenian and EU officials began a new round of those negotiations in Yerevan on Tuesday. According to Sarkisian, the two sides need to agree on only one remaining chapter of the Association Agreement. “We are very close to concluding [talks on] the DCFTA and, God willing, will finalize and sign it this year,” he said.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian likewise said on Tuesday that the association talks are “approaching the final stage” as he met with Gunnar Wiegand, the chief EU negotiator. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian and Wiegand reaffirmed their intention to wrap up the process by the Vilnius summit.