Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for what he called Moscow's "balanced position" amid the political upheaval that brought him to power in Yerevan, and reassured the Kremlin that the "strategic alliance" between the countries is not in doubt.
In their first meeting since Pashinian was voted in by parliament on May 8 after leading weeks of antigovernment protests in the South Caucasus country, Putin wished him success and said he hoped that bilateral ties "will develop just as steadily as they have up to now."
The warm tone of the May 14 meeting on the sidelines of a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi was in line with previous comments by Putin and Pashinian, who has repeatedly said that Armenia will not turn its back on Russia -- a far larger and more powerful country that has a major military base in the smaller nation.
Speaking to Putin with reporters present at the start of the meeting, Pashinian said that "the strategic-alliance relations between Armenia and Russia" required "no discussion." He added that "there is a consensus on this issue in Armenia. I think that nobody in our country has or will cast doubt on the strategic importance of Armenian-Russian relations."
Pashinian said he hoped there would be a "new impulse for these relations," both in terms of politics and trade. According to the Interfax and Reuters news agencies, Pashinian -- whose country is locked in a simmering conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh -- expressed hopes of a boost in the arms trade.
Pashinian praised what he called the "balanced position that Russia demonstrated during our political crisis," adding: "It was a very constructive position. And I think this is highly valued not just by our government but in Armenian society in general."
Russia watched closely and consulted with Armenian politicians on both sides of the dispute but claimed it did not interfere amid the protests led by Pashinian, which prompted the resignation of longtime leader Serzh Sarkisian days after he became prime minister following a decade as president -- a shift that critics charged was a blatant bid to cling to power.
Russia's ties with Armenia are closer than its relations with South Caucasus neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia -- Moscow's foe in a five-day war in 2008.
In addition to the EEU, Armenia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, another regional grouping dominated by Moscow.
Russia "views Armenia as our closest partner and ally in the region" on both economic and security issues, Putin said. He said he hopes that what he called the "very good results" of recent economic cooperation will be "not just preserved but increased."
Speaking at the EEU summit, Pashinian affirmed his government's "full adherence to international commitments undertaken by the Republic of Armenia, including within the Eurasian Economic Union."
The Russian-led EEU, which aims to create a single market for the free movement of goods and services over a total population of more than 180 million people, was officially established in 2015 and also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
But Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that EEU members were "shutting doors against one another."
"We are exchanging mutual reproaches even in the media by which we are putting the international reputation of the union at risk," he also said.
Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov complained about what he called "acute" bureaucracy within EEU structures and said the grouping's executive body should be granted "extra authority to enable the prompt resolution of disputes related to the movement of goods."
"The [Eurasian Economic] Commission must be proactive and firm to resolve problematic issues that emerge among EEU member states," he said.