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Russia blocks Armenian goods over ‘sanitary concerns’

28 November 2023
The Upper Lars border checkpoint. Photo: Georgian Finance Ministry/Facebook

Russian customs have blocked the entry of a number of Armenian lorries for ‘violating sanitary measures’, as relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate.

An unknown number of lorries have been at the border between Georgia and Russia, since 23 November.

On Monday, Garnik Danielyan, an opposition MP from the Armenia faction, stated that several Armenian lorries have already returned to Armenia, while ‘about 200 others are waiting in line’.

A representative of Rose Field, a company that has lorries stuck at the border, told Hetq that Russia was barring the entry of the lorries because it ‘trying to oppress Armenia economically. The reason is that Armenia is changing its political trajectory.’

‘There has always been phytosanitary control, either formally or normally, but there was no such problem as the widespread banning of exports’, they added. 

The lorries are believed to be carrying fruits, vegetables, flowers, and fish, some of Armenia’s main exports to Russia. According to Hetq, Armenian exports to Russia have dramatically increased since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as Russia has sought to replace supplies previously coming from the West.

Russian customs officers reportedly told Rose Field that the order not to let the lorries through had ‘come from Moscow’.

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This week, Russian media reported that queues in Upper Lars had been getting longer because weather conditions had limited access to some roads. On Tuesday, Kommersant reported that up to 2,600 lorries were waiting at the border.

On Sunday, Armenia’s State Revenue Committee stated that it was holding ‘regular discussions […] to settle the situation’. 

Political repercussions

Once news broke of the Armenian lorries being denied entry into Russia, Armenian opposition groups shifted the blame on to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government for snubbing several high-level Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) meetings.

‘I think Russia is sending certain messages [to Yerevan]’, Artur Khachatryan, an opposition MP from the Armenia Alliance, told RFE/RL.

He added that Moscow was retaliating against Pashinian’s decision not to participate in the Minsk CSTO summit at the end of November. 

[Read more: Lukashenka urges Armenia to ‘seriously consider’ not leaving the CSTO]

Armenia’s relations with Russia have been rapidly deteriorating since the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, with Yerevan seemingly pushing itself away from the Moscow-led CSTO and Commonwealth of Independent States in favour of closer ties with the West.

In addition to the Minsk summit that Pashinyan sat out in November, Armenia refused to host joint CSTO peacekeeping exercises and refused to take part in two other CSTO drills in autumn.

Yerevan also refused to send a representative to serve as the CSTO’s deputy secretary general in March.

Russia has frequently introduced restrictions of imports from neighbouring countries on ‘sanitary grounds’, including Armenia, during times of heightened tension.

In early October, as the Armenian Parliament prepared to ratify the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute after the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia reportedly held 60 Armenian lorries for a week at the border. 

In late October, after Pashinyan gave a speech at the European Parliament in which he criticised Armenia’s security allies, Russian MPs decided to postpone discussions of a draft law that would recognise Armenian driving licenses for the purpose of entrepreneurial and labour activities. 

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