Russia Reassures Azerbaijan on Weapons Transfer to Armenia

(AP)–A Russian diplomat sought to assuage Azerbaijani concerns about the relocation of weapons from Georgia to Armenia–saying Thursday that the arms and equipment would remain under Russian military control and would not destabilize the region.

Azerbaijan has voiced fears about Russia’s plan to move weaponry from Georgia to Armenia–which has been locked in a conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia is a staunch ally of Russia.

Pyotr Burdykin–Russia’s acting ambassador to Azerbaijan said Thursday that the weaponry was being relocated under pressure to speed up the Russian military withdrawal from Georgia. "We initially talked about returning all these weapons to Russia in normal conditions–but Georgia and other nations have insisted on speeding it up and applied very strong pressure," Burdykin told reporters in Baku.

Russia agreed to begin withdrawing from two Soviet-era bases in Georgia by the end of the year and complete the pullout over the course of 2008.

"This transfer isn’t directed against any third country–and it’s not going to affect the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement," Burdykin said. "There is no sense in blowing it out of proportion."

But Tahir Tagizade–a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry–said moving the weapons to Armenia would compromise Russia’s role as one of the international mediators to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "We will insist that Russia listen to our concerns," he said.

Mountainous Karabagh Republic’s (MKR) military on Thursday denied Azerbaijani reports that an Azerbaijani soldier was killed Wednesday in a skirmish on the border. Also–the head of the MKR election commission–Sergei Nasibian–defended plans to hold parliamentary elections on June 19.

"Azerbaijani’s concerns that the parliamentary elections would be an obstacle to peaceful settlement of the Mountainous Karabagh conflict are unfounded," Nasibian said.

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