Putting Armenia’s relations with the West to the test, President Serzh Sarkisian appeared to have recognized Russia’s internationally condemned annexation of Crimea during a phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Sarkisian’s press office said he phoned Putin to discuss “the crisis in Ukraine and ways out of it.” “In that context, the interlocutors addressed the situation that emerged after the referendum in Crimea and concluded that it is yet another example of realization of peoples’ right to self-determination through a free expression of will,” it said in a statement.
“At the same time they emphasized the importance of commitment to the norms and principles of international law and the UN charter in the first instance,” added the statement. It also noted that the phone call took place “at the initiative of the Armenian side.”
In a shorter statement, the Kremlin confirmed the conversation but made no mention of Sarkisian’s endorsement of the weekend referendum in which residents of Crimea voted to become part of Russia. It said only that the two presidents “exchanged opinions in connection with the reunification of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol with the Russian Federation.”
The Armenian government has until now avoided taking sides in the crisis degenerating into Russia’s most serious standoff with the West since the end of the Cold War. It was clearly anxious not to irk the United States and the European Union that have denounced the Crimea vote and the resulting annexation as illegal. Western reaction to Sarkisian’s move is therefore bound to be negative.
Analysts will likely link the move to Sarkisian’s unexpected decision last year to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Customs Union, which was widely attributed to strong Russian pressure exerted on Yerevan. The Sarkisian administration has since been keen to complete the accession process as quickly as possible.
Incidentally, that process was also on the agenda of Sarkisian’s phone call with Putin. The official Armenian and Russian sources gave no other details of that discussion.