The Russian government banned the entry of visitors from many foreign countries this spring in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic. A few months later it allowed citizens of some of those countries, including all other members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) except Armenia, to visit Russia.
The ban directly affected tens of thousands of Armenian migrant workers earning a living in Russia on a seasonal or permanent basis. Many of them had to return to Armenia following lockdown restrictions imposed across Russia in March.
Most migrant workers have had trouble finding jobs in Armenia since then. The Armenian economy is on course to contract by at least 7 percent this year due to the pandemic and the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian government has repeatedly pressed Moscow to lift the ban in recent months. Russian officials have yet to publicly say when that could happen.
Pashinian raised the matter at a virtual summit of EEU leaders held on Friday.
“Unfettered cargo and passenger traffic with the other countries of the Union is of fundamental importance to us,” Pashinian told the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
“Restrictions are especially sensitive in this area, and the creation of conditions for lifting the bans on the entry of Armenian citizens into a number of EEU member states is therefore imperative now,” he said.
All of those ex-Soviet states have been hit hard by the pandemic. The Armenian authorities have confirmed over 146,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,445 deaths caused by them in the country of about 3 million. The real number of cases is believed to be much higher.
Pashinian also reiterated his calls for the creation of a single energy market that would lower the cost of Russian natural gas imported by Armenia and other EEU member states.
The gas price is currently significantly lower for consumers in Russia than other ex-Soviet states making up the trade bloc. Armenia and Belarus want Moscow to agree to uniform EEU energy tariffs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea at an EEU summit in May, implying that Yerevan and Minsk should agree first to even deeper economic integration with Moscow which would result in a “single budget and system of taxation” for all EEU member states.