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Armenia Again Rules Out Entry Into Russian Customs Union

Armenia Again Rules Out Entry Into Russian Customs Union

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has again ruled out Armenia’s accession to a customs union of Russia and two other former Soviet republics and said his country will continue deepening integration with the European Union.

In an interview with the Russian daily “Kommersant” published on Wednesday, he also stated that Yerevan is ready to consider hosting a Russian military radar station currently located in Azerbaijan.

Commenting on the possibility of Armenian membership in the trade bloc formed by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, Sarkisian reiterated his government’s argument that Armenia has no common with any of the three countries.

“That would make no sense,” he said. “The whole point of a customs union is to have commercial exchanges without customs control. In our case, that is impossible as we have to pass through the territory of a neighboring state and twice undergo customs administration.”

“Our Russian colleagues understand this situation. We are looking for ways of cooperation without the customs union,” he added.

Successive Armenian governments have cited the same reason for not joining the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), a looser grouping of Russia and four other ex-Soviet states. Armenia has only an observer status in the Eurasec.

Moscow is keen to turn the Eurasec into a more tightly-knit bloc. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin floated late last year the idea of setting up a Russian-led “Eurasian Union” of ex-Soviet states. He said it would be built around the existing customs union.

While avoiding membership in the union, Armenia signed last October a multilateral free trade agreement with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan. At the same time, it plans to cut a more far-reaching free trade deal with the European Union within the framework of the latter’s Eastern Partnership.

Sarkisian told “Kommersant” that the Eastern Partnership is not aimed at weakening Russian presence in Armenia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. “We cooperate with both NATO and the EU,” he said. “These processes are not directed against a third party. Just as our strategic ties with Russia are not directed against the EU.”

“Our strategic partner Russia is aware of all of our cooperation programs, be it with the EU, NATO, the U.S., Iran China or Georgia. Russia shows understanding for this. We don’t have much choice in developing partnerships given our geopolitical situation and problems with neighbors,” added the Armenian premier.

Sarkisian highlighted Yerevan’s greater reliance on a military alliance with Moscow when he was asked whether it would agree to allow the Russian military to relocate a major early-warning radar station from Azerbaijan to Armenia. “Why not … If our territory is of such interest, we are ready to discuss this issue,” he said.

Russia and Azerbaijan have been negotiating on a possible extension of the Russian lease on the Gabala radar station which is due to expire in December 2012. They have reached no agreement yet.