YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia should tread carefully in its efforts to forge closer ties with the European Union, a senior member of Russia’s State Duma said during a visit Yerevan on Friday.
Leonid Kalashnikov, who chairs the Russian parliament’s committee on relations with former Soviet republics, said Moscow will not object to a planned accord between the EU and Armenia if it conforms to the latter’s membership commitments to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
“You just have to comply with those [EEU] norms because you can see, for example, what is now happening in Moldova,” Kalashnikov told reporters. “I was there recently. After signing the Association Agreement with the EU they have lost one-third of their GDP and the entire Russian market because they had not agreed [terms with Russia.]”
“And what have they received in return? Nothing except [EU] visas,” said the lawmaker affiliated with the Russian Communist Party, which is in nominal opposition to President Vladimir Putin but rarely challenges him.
“Or take [EU member] Bulgaria,” Kalashnikov went on. “Nobody now needs their tomatoes and cucumbers.
“You just have to be careful with the EU. They only care about their market. All capitalists are like that.”
Armenia negotiated in 2013 a similar Association Agreement with the EU that would have given it permanent tariff-free access to the world’s biggest and richest single market. President Serzh Sarkisian made its signing impossible with his unexpected decision to seek membership it the Russian-led trade bloc.
Brussels and Yerevan finalized an alternative accord late last month. It contains the main political and some economic provisions of the cancelled Association Agreement. But it has no free trade-related component due to Armenia’s membership in the EEU.
The Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Ivan Volynkin, indicated on February 10 that the new accord will not undermine Armenia’s alliance with Russia.
Kalashnikov and several other senior Russian parliamentarians led by State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin arrived in Yerevan on Friday for regular talks with their Armenian colleagues. Volodin described Armenia as Russia’s “strategic partner” and said the two states should further deepen their ties.