Eight heads of state gathered this week in Yerevan at the annual meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union. The event included a one-on-one meeting between the Russian and Armenian leaders as well as Iran announcing its intentions to join the Russia-led trading bloc.
The annual event, which brought together the heads of state of Armenia, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Singapore, and Iran, officially kicked off on 1 October.
The event saw the first visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Armenia since the Velvet Revolution. Tensions between Russia and Armenia have been high since the post-revolutionary government arrested Yuri Khachaturov, the then–head of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), in July 2018 and ex-President Robert Kocharyan, a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Both were arrested for their alleged role in a deadly crackdown on protests in 2008.
However, the relationship between Pashinyan and Putin in Yerevan seemed cordial.
‘I would like to thank you for your understanding of our relationship, and I’m certain our relationship is only going to grow stronger and stronger.’ Pashinyan told Putin in the one-on-one meeting on Monday.
In turn, Putin told Pashinyan that their relationship had been strengthened by ‘a centuries-old relationship between our peoples’ and that he wanted to ‘congratulate [Pashinyan] on the results of the EAEU summit in Yerevan’ as there was ‘not a single hitch’.
‘You are the person who put maximum effort into ensuring such productive work, and for this, I not only want to congratulate you but also to thank you’, Putin told Pashinyan.
However, despite the thaw in relations, Putin did not forget his former ally Kocharyan. RFE/RL reported that Putin met the ex-President’s wife, Bella, at the Russian embassy. No further details were given about the meeting.
Armenia became a member of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2014 to a mixed public reaction. A number of current Armenian officials, including Pashinyan, opposed the decision — favouring closer integration with the European Union.
However, since coming to power after the 2018 Velvet Revolution, the government has embraced the country’s membership in the EAEU.
According to a study conducted by the International Republican Institute in May, 77% of Armenians were in favour of the country’s EAEU membership and 62% considered Russia Armenia’s most important economic partner.
The summit’s agenda covered a number of different issues.
In closed sessions, heads of member states discussed the Eurasian Economic Forum, the presidency and staff of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), and import customs tariffs.
Open sessions covered the EAEU 2018 budget performance, the EAEU 2020 budget, and the development of a single financial market.
Prior to the launch of the summit, on 30 September, a two-day conference titled Eurasia’s Transit Potential took place in Yerevan’s Tumo Center for Creative Technologies.
In his opening remarks during the conference, Prime Minister Pashinyan emphasised the importance of signing trade agreements with Iran, Vietnam, China, Singapore, as well as agreements with Serbia, Egypt, India, and Israel.
According to him these partnerships would not only strengthen the economic potential of the EAEU but would expand transport corridors in the region.
However, the need for improved management of transportation was raised by the participants. Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Igor Petrishenko stated that without high-speed transit, the EAEU would not be able to fulfill its potential in world trade.
On 1 October, the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council held a meeting with the four heads of its member states and Tigran Sargsyan, Chair of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the permanent regulatory body of the EAEU.
Topics discussed included the formation of a common financial market within the EAEU, international economic cooperation with third countries and organisations, customs regulations, as well as harmonising legislation of EAEU member states on gas transportation and supply.
Afterwards, an open session took place with the participation of the heads of Moldova, Iran, and Singapore. They discussed the development of cooperation in the fields of finance, economy, and customs, as well as the deepening of international EAEU cooperation and other issues.
In his opening remarks during the open session, Prime Minister Pashinyan stated: ‘Our organisation which is already five years old is getting stronger year after year. It has already proved to be viable and attractive. And I am happy to announce that Armenia has brought its possible contribution to this process.’
An agreement was signed with Singapore at the end of the meeting in which Singapore will provide duty-free access for all goods from EAEU countries and vice-versa.
Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies Centre (RSC), an independent think tank based in Yerevan, told OC Media that this new partnership may benefit Armenia.
‘Despite the limited economic benefits for Armenia from the Eurasian Economic Union, including higher tariffs, limited or meager trade benefits, and even less investment potential, etc., Armenia has been able to garner some synergy from exploring trade and investment with China, Singapore, and Vietnam’, Giragosian said.
However, he claimed that these benefits were still only vague potentialities. ‘It is still too early to see if this aspect of new trade and investment works for Armenia, which may gain greater benefits from pursuing bilateral trade deals on its own with these Asian partners’, Giragosyan said.
A similar agreement was signed with Iran and China in 2018 to come into effect this October. The agreement with Iran is significant for Armenia, as it is is the only EAEU country that shares a border with the Islamic Republic.
Giragosian told OC Media that the participation of the Iranian president in the recent Eurasian Economic Union Summit was an important development.
‘It offered the Armenian government, acting as host of the summit, an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of Armenia as a “bridge” between the Russian-dominated Eurasian bloc and Iran’, he said.
He said this role had economic opportunities too, as Armenia, ‘holds real potential for both Iranian access to the markets of the Eurasian Economic Union […] and for fellow members of the Eurasian Union to leverage Armenia to seek greater trade with Iran.’
Trade between Armenia and Iran has been hampered by sanctions from the United States.