YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The speaker of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, promoted a deeper economic and political integration of Russia and other former Soviet republics during an official visit to Armenia on Tuesday.
Naryshkin said he “spoke a lot” about what he described as “the Eurasian project” advanced by Moscow at his meetings in Yerevan with President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior Armenian officials.
“The leadership of the Republic of Armenia is attentively monitoring the development of that Eurasian project and is seeking to determine its place in this project, realizing that the Eurasian economic area is a format for the development of economic relations,” he told journalists after the talks.
Naryshkin, who served as the Kremlin chief of staff before taking over Russia’s lower house of parliament last December, appeared to refer the idea of a Russian-led “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet republics put forward by President Vladimir Putin last year. Putin said it would be built around the existing customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Naryshkin said trade among the three nations soared by 30 percent last year thanks to the customs union. That increase shows that the efforts to set up a “common economic space” in the former Soviet Union are already bearing fruit, he said.
The Armenian government has explicitly ruled out membership in the customs union, arguing that Armenia has no common border with any of its member states. This stance is construed by some analyst as an indication of Yerevan’s lukewarm attitude towards the deeper Eurasian Union.
Official Armenian sources made no specific mention of the union in press releases on the Duma speaker’s meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian. President Sarkisian was cited as saying that his administration is committed to further deepening “allied” relations with Russia because they are “the cornerstone of Armenia’s security.”
Speaking at a joint news conference with Abrahamian, Naryshkin praised the growing volume of Russian-Armenian trade and emphasized the fact that Russia is Armenia’s leading trading partner and foreign investor. He also noted “with satisfaction” that he received assurances that the Armenian parliament will ratify this autumn a free trade agreement that was signed by Russia, Armenia and six other ex-Soviet states in Saint Petersburg last October.