The presidents of Armenia and Russia met in Moscow Wednesday evening on the sidelines of a major gathering of several post-Soviet leaders in the Russian capital.
Very few details of the meeting between Serzh Sargsyan and Vladimir Putin have been released by their press offices in Yerevan and Moscow.
According to the Armenian presidential press service, the two leaders discussed “Armenian-Russian strategic relations, including issues of deepening cooperation in areas of mutual interest.”
The terse report, however, may actually be indicative of quite serious issues being discussed at the meeting, like Armenia’s possible accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, or a nascent Eurasian Union (EAU), a Putin-advocated re-integration project for former Soviet republics. Recently, officials in Armenia have been talking more about developing closer ties with the European Union. Many say EAU and EU are, in fact, mutually exclusive.
Before his meeting with Putin, Sargsyan took part in the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led defense pact that besides Armenia also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Armenian leader made a speech at the gathering, addressing issues like the Karabakh settlement and the Syria crisis.
In particular, speaking about the situation in Syria, Sargsyan said that Armenia advocates an immediate cessation of hostilities in this Middle Eastern country and a peaceful resolution of the internal conflict exclusively by the citizens of Syria. He also stressed that Armenia will continue to help ethnic Armenians in Aleppo as well as Syrian Armenians who are already in Yerevan.
In regards to the Karabakh conflict, the Armenian leader criticized Azerbaijan for its “unconstructive” approach to the current settlement effort and its continuing war rhetoric and belligerent policies.
“We are convinced that the only solution to existing conflicts is the way of negotiations. We proceed from the fact that after the ceasefire was reached between the conflicting sides [in Karabakh], especially that it has held for 18 years, the resumption of military operations or even a threat of renewed hostilities is a direct violation of the norms and principles of international law,” said the president of Armenia. “This is the most short-sighted path towards a new tide of violence, hatred and bloodshed. Problems do not get solved this way, but they only get more complicated.”
Sargsyan also slammed the Azerbaijani government over what he called propaganda of hatred and hostility towards Armenians among its citizens. He, in particular, cited the so-called Safarov Affair as proof to his words.
“As a matter of fact, killing an Armenian is no longer a crime in Azerbaijan,” said Sargsyan, referring to the case of Ramil Safarov, who had been serving a life sentence in a Hungarian jail for a brutal killing of a sleeping Armenian officer at a NATO-sponsored language course in 2004 before being handed over and controversially pardoned in Azerbaijan on August 31.
The president’s comments came the same day the Kremlin hosted a EurAsEC summit. Before the meetings many analysts in Yerevan expected that Sargsyan would be “made” to sign certain documents pledging Armenia’s closer cooperation with these organizations, but no such thing has been announced afterwards.
Earlier, however, Eurasian Economic Commission Board Chairman Victor Khristenko announced that the Customs Union expected to sign documents on cooperation with Armenia in early 2013 (when Putin is expected to visit Armenia).
In a Wednesday interview with the Russian newspaper, Vedomosti, Khristenko made a number of interesting comments in this regard.
To the paper’s question on whether there are other countries willing to join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union, Khristenko said: “Recently, we arranged with the Government of Armenia that we would sign a memorandum similar to that we have with Ukraine. I think that in the case with Armenia progress will be more intensive than in the case with Ukraine.”
In response to the Vedomosti correspondent’s remark that Armenia has no common borders with the Customs Union, Khristenko said: “It seems an insurmountable obstacle to many. But in my view it is not so. Russia, too, has an exclave of Kaliningrad. Given the developed level of communications existing today, the Customs Union can definitely have an exclave. Of course, Armenia has very sensitive infrastructure constraints as the sole transport corridor leading to the Customs Union passes through Georgia. But Armenia’s strategic interest is obvious and it makes Armenia a Eurasian country.”
“We should consider all interesting formats. In general, the world is changing, and we may get new interaction models in our arsenal, models that haven’t been there before,” said the official, without elaborating.
This interview has reassured observers that Armenia, which is currently striving to sign an association agreement with the European Union, will have to continue her maneuvering between Moscow and Brussels in the time to come. Analysts do not rule out that Putin’s Russia may use plans to raise natural gas prices and secret scenarios to prevent Sargsyan’s smooth reelection in February as trump cards in the unfolding battle for allegiances.