Armenia sees no need to attend an upcoming meeting of its three Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) partners that it says will focus on the disagreements that they have amongst themselves and do not concern Yerevan.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev will host his Russian and Belarus counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka, in Astana on March 12-13 to discuss trade and economic issues existing among the three post-Soviet nations that have formed the EEU this year on the basis of their customs union.
Armenia joined the EEU one day after it was officially launched on January 1. While the current Armenian leadership believes that membership in the Russian-led trade bloc is beneficial for the country both economically and politically, many experts also see disadvantages of being part of this alliance not least because of the absence of a land link between Armenia and the rest of the EEU space.
Many also see Armenia’s move to join the post-Soviet economic grouping as a political decision considering that the South Caucasus nation heavily relies on Russia for its security that is likely to have been jeopardized had Yerevan chosen to continue its further integration with the European Union back in 2013.
Some opposition groups and media in Armenia have also criticized President Serzh Sarkisian not only for taking the decision to engage in post-Soviet integration but also for not doing enough to enter the EEU on terms that would be more advantageous for Armenia. They, in particular, argue that readily and hastily agreeing to this form of integration has resulted in a situation when Armenia is no longer viewed as an equal partner by Russia and the other two EEU members.
Newspapers critical of the government used the circumstance of President Sarkisian’s not being invited to the trilateral meeting in Kazakhstan as another occasion to emphasize that Armenia gets humiliating treatment from the rest of the EEU members.
But according to Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian, Armenia’s not attending the Astana summit is not going to affect the country’s interests.
“These three countries [Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan] have problems among themselves that they do not hide, and they are trying to overcome their differences. We have no disagreements, we have just become a member [of the EEU], we have no problems with any of these states or the EEU as a whole,” the Armenian diplomat said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) on Tuesday.
While no official report has so far said that the Astana meeting will be held in the EEU format, the official website of the Kremlin, for example, emphasizes that during the upcoming meeting “the parties are going to discuss the current state and prospects of trade and economic cooperation among the three countries and the Eurasian integration processes, taking into account the influence of the current trends in the world economy.”
Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikian, who leads the extra-parliamentary opposition National Self-Determination Union party, takes Armenia’s absence from the upcoming EEU summit in its stride. Hayrikian, who is known to oppose Armenia’s membership in the post-Soviet grouping, thinks that this way the EEU founding nations make it clear to Armenia that they will be the ones to make decisions.
“Russia is trying to make it clear that Armenia cannot and should not expect anything good from it,” the oppositionist said.
According to official statistics, after Armenia’s accession to the EEU the country’s economy recorded some negative trends, including reduced exports, falling private remittances and investments.
Bagrat Asatrian, who served as governor of the Armenian Central Bank in 1994-1998, expects the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to address similar economic concerns relating to their own countries at the upcoming meeting. But Armenia, which experiences the same problems, in his view, is only an appendage. “Decisions have long been made instead of Armenia and no one asks [its opinion]. Today we have concrete problems in our economy because decisions are made not by us,” the economist said.
Meanwhile, it was reported on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the Bank of Russia together with the Russian government and “in interaction with the central (national) banks of EEU member states” to determine by September 1 “the further directions of integration in the currency and financial spheres”. He also said that “the expedience and possibility of creating a currency union within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union in the long term should be considered.”