World Leaders from Iran, Russia Converge at Eurasian Economic Summit in Yerevan

YEREVAN—The presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan came together in Armenia along with Iran’s President Hassan Rohani and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the one-day session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. The Summit on October 1 also marked the first visit by Kazakhstan’s new president Kassim Jomart-Tokayev to Armenia following the sudden resignation of Kazakh strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev months prior.

Among the 19 items on the Agenda for the Summit were plans for the five members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to further integrate economic relationships, streamline trade and government regulations, create a common energy distribution market, standardize pricing for natural gas deliveries, resolve budgetary issues and sign a Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee, who had only recently hosted Prime Minister Pashinyan, was particularly satisfied with his trip to Armenia. He praised the fact that his country managed to sign the FTA with the EEU after a short two-year negotiation period. “I am glad the EEU members and Singapore are like-minded partners committed to multilateralism and free trade. The FTA will open up new opportunities for us to collaborate,” he said during a joint press conference following the signing.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, October 1, 2019

Iran’s President Rohani, who had signed a similar FTA with the EEU during last year’s Eurasian Summit took the opportunity to slam US sanctions on his country, touting the EEU as a viable alternative to American hegemony on international trade. He was further encouraged by Prime Minister Pashinyan’s pledge to deepen historically warm relations between the two countries “in spite of US sanctions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin had kind words to say about the Summit. Referring to the five-year anniversary of the EEU’s founding, he praised the Summit as evidence that the organization “continues to develop at a steady pace and has greatly contributed to the raising of living standards across member-states.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured with Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, October 1, 2019

Economists disagree on the economic benefits brought by the EEU on its member states. The regional integration project has long been dismissed as a pet project by Putin to create a competing Moscow-dominated bloc to the European Union’s (EU) continued advances into the post-Soviet space. The economies of the five member-states have greatly diverged over the three decades since the collapse of the USSR, with some of the more diversified economies like Armenia’s benefitting from closer trade ties to the EU.

Prime Minister Pashinyan also commended Armenia’s contribution to Eurasian integration, despite having been a vocal supporter of a pro-European path for Armenia as an opposition politician, and once heading the only parliamentary party to vote for Armenia’s exit from the group as recently as several months before he was elected to the highest office. “[The EEU] has already proved its viability and attractiveness as an international integration grouping,” he said in his official statement. 

Fellow Armenian, Tigran Sargsyan the current chairman of the Eurasian Economic Council was less enthusiastic about the achievements of Eurasian integration, however. He decried the EEU’s lagging transportation infrastructure as vastly “inferior” to that of competing regional cooperation initiatives. Sargsyan was expected to announce his Belarusian successor during the Summit as his term as chairman is expected to end in February, however Belarusian President Lukashenko tabled the discussion for a later date. As with Pashinyan, Sargsyan’s leadership of the EEU has been met with historical irony, given the fact that as Prime Minister in 2013, he had vocally and repeatedly denied that Armenia would ever join the organization.

The Summit did manage to attract attention across the world for a very Pashinyan-specific reason: a selfie. The Prime Minister shared a group photo of himself and other state leaders including a confused Rouhani, and an aloof-looking President Putin sitting in the back on his social media profiles, much to the Internet’s delight.

Photo: Facebook/Nikol Pashinyan

The next session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council will be held in December in St. Petersburg.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

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