Moscow banned the entry of visitors from many foreign countries last spring as part of its efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. It subsequently allowed citizens of some 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 last March.
After repeated appeals from the Armenian government Moscow last week allowed Armenian citizens testing negative for COVID-19 to enter Russia by air from February 1 to March 1. They have to use a special mobile phone application certifying negative results of their coronavirus tests taken shortly before their departure from Armenia.
Pashinian “noted with satisfaction” the lifting of the ban when he spoke at a meeting of the prime ministers of Russia and other EEU member states held in Kazakhstan. He said that the move is of “fairly great social and economic significance” for Armenia.
Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian said on Thursday that 1,423 Armenian citizens flew to Moscow and other Russian cities from Yerevan on February 1-3. More than 1,260 others returned to Armenia from Russia in the three-day period, Grigorian told Pashinian during a cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Flights to Russia from Armenia’s second international airport located in Gyumri resumed on Thursday evening. Gyumri and the surrounding Shirak province have for decades suffered from high unemployment and poverty, forcing a large part of the region’s population to work in Russia.
“I’m going [to Russia] for work. I was stuck here for a year because of the pandemic,” one local resident, Onik Poghosian, said as he prepared to board a Gyumri-Moscow flight on Friday.
“My family will stay here and I will come back again,” Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Armenuhi Ghasaboghlian was at the Gyumri airport to see off her son and his family that had emigrated to Russia in the 1990s but returned to Armenia following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” She said the family decided to again leave the country.
“Our living conditions were such that we realized that we can’t sufficiently provide for the children,” explained the woman. “We weren’t scared of the coronavirus or the war [in Nagorno-Karabakh.]”