An important stage in the development and strengthening of relations between Russia and Armenia has become President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to this Transcaucasian country. It took place almost immediately after at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius Armenia abandoned plans to join the EU and reiterated its desire to join the Customs Union (CU), which unites Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and subsequently become a party to the Single Economic Area. This intention fully meets Armenia’s national interests. While Russia, as Putin said, “will continue to assist Armenian friends so that the process of Armenia’s joining the Customs Union should move with maximum efficiency.”
The short visit of the Russian president to the friendly country was, however, very rich both in the program of a stay, and the importance of agreements concluded. In Gyumri (former Leninakan) Vladimir Putin and Serzh Sargsyan took part in the Third Russian –Armenian interregional forum whose keynote was the future Armenia’s joining the Customs Union. As is expected, the country will be ready to enter into this integration association as early as February 2014.
Within the forum, its delegates (600 representatives from different regions of Russia and Armenia) unveiled a monument to The One Cross symbolizing the centuries-old Russian-Armenian friendship. A similar monument was opened in Moscow as far back as 1997.
Visiting Gyumri, the two countries’ leaders at a video conference attended the ceremony of commissioning of the fifth unit of the Hrazdan thermal power plant. Its commissioning was planned as early as in Soviet times, but the construction did not budge until the Russian Gazprom came to the aid with its investments and technologies. The fifth block’s start-up is to put an end to the energy crisis in Armenia that does not have its own energy resources. This is also helped by the decision to abolish export duties on Russian energy delivery to Armenia - oil and gas, and rough diamonds. Vladimir Putin said that in relations with Russia, Armenia will enjoy privileges the Customs Union countries have. In particular, natural gas will be supplied to Armenia at the price less than $190 per 1,000 cubic meters, which, of course is a major step towards the Armenian side.
Given all the above, it is clear what advantages Armenia gains by joining the CU compared with the European alternative. As Vladimir Putin said, “Armenian experts have thoroughly calculated all benefits from possible preferences of collaboration within the framework of this cooperation, integration associations and made their choice in favor of it, and Russia will do everything to support this area of cooperation with Armenia.”
No doubt, Armenian experts have made the right choice - both from the political and economic points of view. The Customs Union, the further integration with its members will give Armenia what it could have never got by associating with the European Union, which was declined even by Ukraine, a much richer country in material and all other resources.
Even now Armenia is closely linked with Russia. Russian-Armenian ties are developing on the basis of more than 160 treaties and agreements, including the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, as well as on allied relations. In 2012, the bilateral trade exceeded $1.2 billion, and in January-August of this year it grew by 10.3% compared with the same period of last year.
Transcaucasia has always been in the sphere of Russia’s geopolitical interests, and it is clear. “Russia wasn’t going to go away from here. On the contrary, we are going to strengthen our positions in this area. We will strengthen our positions in the South Caucasus, based on the best of what we have got from our ancestors,” said Vladimir Putin.
An important part of the visit of the Russian President to Armenia was his visiting the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri. It is a weighty component of Russia’s geopolitical presence in the Transcaucasus, its outpost on the southern borders and plays a special role in ensuring national security of Armenia. Therefore, the Armenian leadership has repeatedly stated and now reiterated its interest in extending the contract relating to this base presence. It was signed on March 16, 1995, its duration is until 2044, and during that time, Moscow will rent the base free of charge. The total number of troopers here is about 5,000 people. On the basis, 3 motorized rifle regiments are stationed, an artillery regiment, a separate tank battalion, it is subordinated to a group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus (Southern Military District).
It is symbolic that Vasily Agapkin, author of the famous march ‘Farewell of Slavianka’ did military service here in Gyumri at the beginning of the last century, and residents of Gyumri well remember it of which Vladimir Putin was convinced. He was also convinced that Armenia remembers and appreciates the assistance provided by the Russians to the Armenian people during and after the terrible disaster befell the country - the December 1988 earthquake in Spitak, which killed 25,000 people. And wreaths on the monument to the earthquake victims laid in Gyumri by Vladimir Putin and Serzh Sargsyan, became a symbol both of a common affliction, and common determination to strengthen the friendship between the two peoples, deepen all-round tides, open new ways of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Russia is vitally interested in peace in the Caucasus and does not want any blood to shed here. It was reiterated by Vladimir Putin, answering the question about the Karabakh conflict. Peace in the Transcaucasus is needed to all, and Moscow has done and will do everything in its power so that it comes as soon as possible, said the president of Russia.