Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated during his annual press conference that it is ‘not in Armenia’s interests’ to leave Russia-led security and economic unions.
Putin’s comments on Thursday referred to the refusal of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to take part in several events of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Putin appeared to downplay Pashinyan’s absence as ‘simply related to some processes in Armenia, and is not related to a desire or unwillingness to continue work in the integration associations’.
‘Ultimately, it is the choice of the state’, he said of Armenia’s continued membership.
In recent months, Armenia has refused to attend several meetings held by Russian-led organisations. Armenian officials explained the country’s refusal to attend CSTO meetings with reference to the bloc’s inaction in the face of Azerbaijani attacks on Armenian territory, stating that it had ‘many questions’ for the organisation.
Speaking in November, Pashinyan stated that ‘the state interests of Armenia’ were taken into account regarding the possibility of Armenia’s potential withdrawal from the CSTO. The statement came in answer to a question regarding what was preventing Armenia from choosing to leave the CSTO if it was no longer taking part in the organisation’s events.
‘At the moment, our records say that the CSTO’s de facto actions or inactions do not address its obligations towards the Republic of Armenia; in this sense, the CSTO’s actions are not in line with Armenia’s interests. And we raise this issue in a transparent way’, Pashinyan noted.
He stated that Armenia wanted to do all it could to ‘fully understand’ the CSTO and communicate its position to the organisation.
In November, Armenia’s parliamentary speaker, Alen Simonyan, announced that Armenia had made no decision to leave the CSTO.
‘How the CSTO positions itself is another matter’, said Simonyan. ‘Is it a structure that is created to take some action when one of the members of that structure is in danger or not?’
Armenia has yet to confirm if Pashinyan will attend several meetings in Russia in December, including the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) summit at which Armenia is due to take over as chair after Russia.
On Friday, Simonyan told RFE/RL that Armenia ‘can and should be active’ in the CIS.
‘It is also a platform for cooperation, which benefits our state, as well as economically, in connection with the EEU, [as] we are in one economic zone, and our economy is quite connected with that economy,’ said Simonyan.
However, Simonyan stated that the CSTO had been responsible for ‘criminal inaction’ against Armenia.
‘We didn’t think that the CSTO servicemen would come and shoot at the Azerbaijanis, but at least we should have seen a political assessment, and we didn’t,’ he said.
‘If it is in the interest of the Republic of Armenia to make a turn, that turn will be made, and if such a decision is made, the people of the Republic of Armenia will know about it’, he declared.
Armenia ‘moving closer to the EU’
At the same time, Armenia has increasingly made moves to closen relations with the West.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan congratulated Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova on ‘landmark decisions’ by the European Council. Georgia was granted EU candidate status, while accession negotiations were opened with Ukraine and Moldova.
Speaking at an Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting on Monday, Mirzoyan stated that Armenia’s people ‘also have European aspirations’.
‘We are not only committed to continuing this path, but even moving closer to the European Union to the extent the EU will deem it possible’, said Mirzoyan.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made a similar statement during his speech at the European Parliament, where he also criticised the CSTO and the inaction of Armenia’s security allies.
EU High Representative Josep Borrell announced on Monday that the EU planned to increase the number of civilian EU observers stationed in Armenia from 138 to 209 to ‘increase the stability of the international border of Armenia and Azerbaijan’.
Armenia has also strengthened its security ties with the EU and other countries as relations have worsened with Russia. Last month, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers agreed to ‘explore’ the possibility of providing ‘non-lethal’ support to Armenia as part of its military assistance programme.
The country has also begun importing weapons from France, and on Thursday, Armenian Defence Minister Suren Papikyan signed a military cooperation agreement with Greece.
It came during an official visit to Greece by Papikyan, during which he met with Greek Defence Minister Nikolaos Dendias.
According to Armenia, the agreement included joint training as well as ‘military-technical engagements’.