Russia’s Foreign Minister Visits Armenia for Talks on Strategic Ties, Georgia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Yerevan on Thursday for official meetings with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian. The ongoing crisis in Georgia and strategic relations between Armenia and Russia were high on the agenda of his talks with Nalbandian and Sarkisian.

Russia is not alarmed by Armenia’s growing cooperation with NATO and welcomes its main regional ally’s efforts to expand economic ties with Georgia after the recent Russian-Georgian war, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

Visiting Yerevan, Lavrov also sounded cautiously optimistic about chances of a breakthrough in the Russian, U.S. and French mediators’ efforts to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Sparking talk of a new Cold War, NATO and Russia effectively froze their relations following Moscow’s August military campaign against Georgia. Armenia, which maintains close military ties with Russia, has made clear that this will not deter it from continuing to implement its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO. Just last Monday Yerevan began hosting three-week NATO-led military exercises shunned by the Russia’s.

“We are not worried about that,” Lavrov told a joint news conference with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. “We too maintain the formats of our relationships with NATO countries. We have a Russia-NATO council that continues to exist, even though some members of the alliance would like to suspend discussion of important issues.”

Lavrov said his country’s sole problem with NATO is the U.S.-led alliance’s readiness to continue to enlarge eastwards into Russia’s near abroad. “We have no differences with our Armenian friends on what kind of a NATO we want to interact with and how,” he said.

Lavrov added that Russia “can only welcome” Armenian-Georgian economic agreemen’s that were reportedly reached during President Serzh Sarkisian’s visit to Tbilisi earlier this week. Sarkisian and his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili announced that their governmen’s will join forces to build a mountain pass in western Georgia that will significantly shorten travel between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea cost.

The Georgian ports of Batumi and Poti process at least 70 percent of cargos shipped to and from Armenia. These vital supply routes were temporarily disrupted during the Russian-Georgian conflict.

“I hope that these agreemen’s will prevent a repeat of situations during the Caucasian crisis that resulted in artificial obstacles on Georgian territory to the traffic of goods to Armenia,” Lavrov said. “I think these agreemen’s will contribute to the economic development of our ally.”

Lavrov said the Armenian side reaffirmed its adherence to joint statemen’s on the crisis issued by Armenia, Russia and four other ex-Soviet states aligned in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO criticized last month Georgia’s ill-fated August 8 attempt to win back South Ossetia but stopped short of denouncing it as an act of aggression.

“The Armenian side voiced support for Russia’s active role in promoting peace and cooperation in the region,” Nalbandian told reporters, commenting on the talks. Armenia also hopes that Russia and Georgia will ease their tensions “as soon as possible” because it wants to retain simultaneously good relations with both nations, he said. “Armenia is interested in that, and we will do everything we can in that direction,” added Nalbandian.

Nalbandian also spoke on Turkey’s proposal to establish a regional platform to manage relations in the Caucasus. He welcomed its stated intention to create an atmosphere of security, stability, trust and cooperation, but noted that issues still need to be discussed about the function and format of Turkey’s Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, which would include the three South Caucasus countries plus two regional heavyweights, Turkey and Russia.

According to Lavrov, Russia’supports any steps aimed creating a “peaceful, stable, and convenient situation for economic and security cooperation.” Turkey’s initiative brought the countries in the region to the table to discuss how issues among them can be resolved through cooperation, he said, adding that separate bilateral meetings that have taken place between the countries in the region will continue through “more extended formats” in the future.

Nalbandian, meanwhile, noted that he and his Turkish and Azeri counterparts discussed the Caucasus Platform during their sideline meeting at the UN General Assembly. He characterized the meeting as “positive,” but cautioned not to expect concrete results from the first meeting.

The three countries did, however, express their “willingness to continue the meetings in this and other formats,” Nalbandian added.

During their joint press conference, the two ministers said they also spoke at length about international efforts to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which are spearheaded by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Lavrov reaffirmed Russian support for a Karabakh settlement, saying that it holds the key to peace and stability in the entire South Caucasus.

“The parties have agreed on a number of very important points that are contained in the document which the co-chairs — Russia, the United States and France–submitted to the OSCE [in November 2007,]” he said. “There also remain unsolved issues, but there are a number of variants that allow us to solve those unsolved issues. I hope that the planned further contacts within the framework of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement will help us move forward.”

The mediators hope that Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, will meet again and finalize the framework peace deal before the end of this year. Such a meeting would most probably take place after Azerbaijan’s October 15 presidential election, which the incumbent Aliev is widely expected to win.

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