Newspaper article International New York Times

Armenians Poised to Join Putin-Backed Trade Bloc ; Group of Ex-Soviet States Is Seen as an Alternative to the European Union

Newspaper article International New York Times

Armenians Poised to Join Putin-Backed Trade Bloc ; Group of Ex-Soviet States Is Seen as an Alternative to the European Union

Article excerpt

Russia's lower house of Parliament voted to allow the former Soviet republic to join the Eurasian Economic Union.

Russia's lower house of Parliament voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a treaty allowing Armenia to join a trade bloc of former Soviet states that President Vladimir V. Putin has championed as an alternative to the European Union.

The bloc, now called the Eurasian Economic Union, already includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan on the path to membership. Mr. Putin envisions it as a counterweight to the European Union and a better guarantor of the region's economic interests.

Tensions have emerged in recent months, however, as Russia has come under economic pressure as a result of sanctions imposed by the West over the Kremlin's intervention in Ukraine.

Russia's mounting economic worries, including a steep decline in the ruble and a simultaneous slide in global oil prices, have weighed on its closest trading partners, particularly Belarus.

The Russian authorities last month banned the transit of Western products from Belarus through Russia to other countries, including Kazakhstan, partly out of concern that such shipments were being used to violate Russia's retaliatory sanctions against Europe, which prohibit the import of most European agricultural products.

Belarus has since stepped up inspections in a bid to persuade Russia to ease the restrictions. But the Belarussian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, has declared publicly that Belarus would not impose restrictions that will break existing agreements with Western suppliers.

"We cannot ban transit of goods to other countries through the Belarussian territory -- this is a violation of all the norms of international law," he said at a recent government meeting. "If Russia does not want any goods to go through it by transit to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Mongolia, Turkey, then it should ban this transit."

Russia has expressed concerns that some truck shipments purportedly destined for Kazakhstan, including frozen meat, have been unloaded instead in Russia. Some Russian officials have also raised suspicions that banned European goods are being repackaged in Belarus and sold in Russia as Belarussian products, which Belarus has denied. …

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