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A senior representative of Russia’s ruling party reportedly voiced support late on Monday for Armenia’s efforts to forge closer links with the European Union while maintaining its political and military alliance with Russia.

Sergey Zheleznyak and three other lawmakers representing President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan three days after Armenia signed the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU.

Sarkisian’s press office quoted Zheleznyak, who is the deputy secretary of United Russia’s governing board, as praising “wise and balanced” policies pursued by the Armenian government.

“He stressed that Russia’s ruling party stands for the principle of ‘both/and,’ rather than ‘either/or,’ of developing relations and cooperation,” the office said in a statement. “Armenia builds its relations with the Russian Federation and the EU in that context. Therefore, according to Sergey Zheleznyak, all those views that differ from the above-mentioned position do not reflect the official approaches of Russia and its ruling party.”

Moscow’s stance on the issue was a subject of intense media speculation in Armenia throughout two-year negotiations that preceded the signing of the CEPA in Brussels on Friday. Some pro-Western pundits in Yerevan claimed that the Kremlin could force Yerevan to pull out of the deal. Armenian officials ruled out such a possibility.

Russian pressure was widely attributed to President Sarkisian’s unexpected decision in 2013 to seek Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The move precluded the signing of a more far-reaching Association Agreement between Armenia and the EU.

RUSSIA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan in Moscow on November 15, 2017.
RUSSIA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan in Moscow on November 15, 2017.

While some pro-government Russian commentators expressed concern over the CEPA in recent weeks, Moscow gave no indications that it disapproves of the deal.

“Armenia is a sovereign country and it has the right to enter into any agreements or blocs that do not contradict obligations assumed by it earlier,” the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Ivan Volynkin, told the Arminfo news agency on Thursday.

The CEPA provisions, he said, do not run counter to Armenia’s EEU membership commitments. Volynkin expressed hope that Armenia will become a “bridge of cooperation between the EU and the EEU.”

The Russian envoy stressed at the same time that the EU is “unable to replace Russia in providing security guarantees to Armenia.” “The EU itself is dependent on NATO in that sense,” he said.

Armenian leaders have repeatedly stated that the alliance with Russia remains the cornerstone of Armenian foreign and security policy. Sarkisian visited Moscow and met with Putin nine days before attending the CEPA signing ceremony in Brussels.

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