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President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) has dismissed an opposition leader’s calls for Armenia to leave the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Edmon Marukian, a pro-Western leader of the opposition Yelk alliance, advocated an exit from the EEU last week after Russia stopped recognizing the validity of driving licenses issued by Armenia and other countries where Russian is not an official language.

A Russian law which took effect on June 1 banned foreign nationals with driving licenses issued by their home countries from working as drivers in Russia. The State Duma, the Russian lower house of parliament, passed last week another law which waived the restriction for citizens of those countries, including EEU members Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, where the Russian language has an official status.

Marukian said that the Russian laws run counter to EEU regulations on a common labor market set up by the bloc’s member states. The EEU’s executive body has reportedly given the same assessment, telling Moscow to scrap the ban on Armenian driving licenses.

Reacting to Marukian’s statements, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said late on Thursday: “If there are political forces that agitate for the exit from the EEU, they had better come up with concrete alternatives and facts, rather than speak on the emotional plane.”

Sharmazanov claimed that the Sarkisian administration’s controversial decision to join the EEU was based on “clear calculations as to what our farmers, investors, tourism sector and the economy [as a whole] will gain.” He said that the Armenian economy has already benefited from better access to the Russian and other ex-Soviet markets.

“We have increased our exports by 23 percent [in 2017] and a large part of them went to EEU countries,” Sharmazanov told reporters. “The number of tourists [visiting Armenia] has gone up by about 30 percent. We must not make political statements without serious corroborations.”

Sarkisian unexpectedly announced his decision to seek membership in the EEU in September 2013 shortly after Armenia and the European Union completed negotiations on a far-reaching Association Agreement. The foreign policy U-turn, which scuttled the planned deal with the EU, was widely attributed to Russian pressure.

Marukian’s stance on the EEU has not yet been officially backed by Yelk’s leadership. The bloc consisting of three opposition parties holds 9 seats in Armenia’s 105-member parliament.

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