YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday defended Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), while acknowledging that it has not yet lived up to his expectations.
“By joining the union we expected to substantially improve the economic situation in Armenia,” he told Tigran Sarkisian (no relation), a former Armenian prime minister who now heads the EEU’s executive body, the Eurasian Economic Commission.
“Unfortunately, our membership coincided with global economic processes that had a negative impact on the country’s economy, and our citizens’ attitude towards the Eurasian Economic Union are still expectant, to put it mildly. I am sure, though, that negative attitudes would have been much stronger had we not joined [the EEU,]” said the president.
The trade bloc officially came into existence in January 2015 amid an unfolding recession in Russia that resulted from the collapse of international oil prices and Western economic sanctions against Moscow. The Russian economy, which accounts for the bulk of the EEU’s combined GDP, is now on course to contract for a second consecutive year. Trade among the EEU member states plummeted by 26 percent last year and 14 percent in the first nine months of 2016.
Armenia’s trade with Russia also shrunk significantly in 2015. But it rose by over 13 percent in January-October 2016, with Russia replacing the European Union as Armenia’s number one trading partner, according to Armenian government data. The increase was driven by a 53 percent surge in Armenian exports to Russia.
The government also recorded sharp rises in Armenia’s exports to two other EEU countries, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in the same period.
Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielian, who oversees Armenia’s day-to-day dealings with the EEU, refused to comment on Sarkisian’s remarks when he was approached by an RFE/RL correspondent.
The Armenian president unexpectedly decided to make Armenia part of the Russian-led bloc in September 2013 just as his government, then headed by Tigran Sarkisian, was close to signing an Association Agreement with the EU. The U-turn was widely attributed to Russian pressure.