ARMENIA-EU FREE TRADE DEAL BLOCKED: LITHUANIA

Agence France Presse
September 3, 2013 Tuesday 6:00 PM GMT

VILNIUS, Sept 03 2013

Armenia has blocked its chances of signing a free trade deal with
the European Union by choosing to join the Russia-led customs union,
EU president Lithuania said Tuesday.

The EU respects the decision announced by Armenian President
Serzh Sarkisian in Moscow earlier Tuesday, but the two systems are
incompatible, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

"We respect any choice of countries but they cannot enter both
organisations at the same time because of different tariff
requirements," he said.

After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Sarkisian
said he had decided to join the 2010 Customs Union that Moscow
currently shares with ex-Soviet Belarus and Kazakhstan.

According to Putin's vision, the Russian-led Customs Union, is the
foundation of a future Eurasian economic union with its own executive
body and a single currency.

Armenia had been poised to initial an association and free trade
agreement with EU at a November summit in Vilnius with six post-Soviet
states grouped in the Brussels-oriented Eastern Partnership programme.

Lithuania, which took over the six-month rotating EU presidency in
July, has actively promoted the partnership.

Launched in 2009, it is aimed at bringing post-Soviet Ukraine,
Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia closer to the EU,
something which Moscow sees as encroaching on its sphere of influence.

Vilnius University analyst Vytis Jurkonis said Tuesday Armenia's move
was "part of the bigger game" by Russia which has recently warned
Ukraine and Moldova that deals with EU may harm their economic ties
with Moscow.

"Russia is increasing pressure on Eastern Partnership countries so they
do not sign association treaties" with Brussels, Jurkonis told AFP.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, Linkevicius and seven other
ministers from Nordic and Baltic countries warned against Russian
pressure on post-Soviet states.

"Any economic threat or political pressure directed against Eastern
partners because of their European aspirations and engagement with
the EU is unacceptable," they said.

Russia has for years tried to get neighbouring Ukraine to join the
Customs Union.

Kiev has so far resisted the pressure and hopes to sign a landmark
political and economic agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit.