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Armenia ratifies CIS free trade zone agreement, still appears to be looking up to West

Armenia ratifies CIS free trade zone agreement, still appears to be looking up to West
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov - Photo: State Department/ William Ng
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov - Photo: State Department/ William Ng

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will try to smooth the tensions between Yerevan and Baku before the UN General Assembly, stated an official representative of the U.S. State Department after the meeting of the two countries’ top diplomats on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia, last weekend.

The meeting of the UN General Assembly is scheduled for September 18 and it is expected that proposals on Karabakh will be made then. In particular, the OSCE Minsk Group, an international format spearheaded by the US, France and Russia that has for two decades been trying to find a negotiated peace to the conflict, may be declared ineffective. The State Department representative also said that the situation with Ramil Safarov’s extradition makes Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations meaningless.

Russian expert Stanislav Tarasov believes the United States has decided to establish a status quo in the region and are now trying to oust Russia and Iran from both the Karabakh negotiation process and the region’s economic space.

Apparently, based on this fact Russia is trying to make Armenia finally integrate with it economically. On Tuesday the Armenian parliament ratified an agreement on ‘CIS Free Trade Zone’. Armenia became the fourth country, after Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, to have ratified the agreement that was signed in 2011. Russia strongly demanded that Armenia ratify the document.

Remarkably, skeptical opinions on this document were voiced in the Armenian parliament. But neither the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), nor experts said that the signing of the agreement means the rejection of European integration. Deputy Parliament Speaker Edward Sharmazanov, of the RPA, when asked about the likelihood of joining the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan), said one should not be looking that far now.

At the same time, the European Union’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus Philippe Lefort paid an unannounced visit to Armenia on Tuesday. During his meetings in Yerevan Lefort said that Europe will continue to support Armenia and develop cooperation. And Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan expressed hope that the agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Trade with the EU will be signed by the end of 2013.

This caused a convulsive reaction from Russia. Russian Ambassador to Armenia Vyacheslav Kovalenko suddenly made tough comments through the press, saying that Russia is a guarantor of Armenia’s security, economic stability and even its national identity.

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union with the help of Russia Armenia managed to retain many of its large enterprises that today are the backbone of Armenia’s national economy: natural gas distribution, mining companies. Our companies work here in almost all spheres, ensuring the Armenian budget, employing thousands of people,” said the ambassador in an interview with Novosti-Armenia. What the Russian ambassador did not mention, however, is the fact that all of these companies had been taken over by Russia and that Russia established de-facto monopolies in these spheres, dictating prices and quality to Armenia.

Meanwhile, Armenia is expanding its cooperation with the West not only in the economic field, but also in the security domain.

In 2013, Yerevan plans to continue its mission in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s ISAF, said Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan on Tuesday during a meeting with Commander of the German Armed Forces Operations Command, Lieutenant General Rainer Glatz. The Armenian peacekeeping contingent has been operating in Afghanistan under German command. The fact that NATO is ready to expand its relations with Armenia was also underscored during a recent visit to Yerevan by the Alliance’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

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