President of Belarus on ‘Private’ Visit to Armenia

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Belarus’s controversial President Aleksandr Lukashenko has arrived in Armenia on what officials in Yerevan described as a “private” trip where he is most likely to cross paths with Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart and increasingly bitter critic.

On Thursday Medvedev will embark on a two-day state visit to Armenia that should result in the signing of a new Russian-Armenian defense agreement. Later this week both he and Lukashenko will participate in an informal summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) hosted by President Serzh Sarkisian.

Lukashenko’s participation in the summit was uncertain until now because of his deteriorating relations with the Kremlin. Once considered Moscow’s most loyal ex-Soviet ally, earlier this year Belarus was engaged in a major disagreement with Russia over gas prices and debts, which led to a disruption in Russia’s Europe-bound supplies flowing via Belarusian territory.

Tensions between the two states rose further late last week when the Kremlin accused Lukashenko of dishonorable and inconsistent behavior following the Belarusian strongman’s claims that he had never promised to recognize Georgia’s Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Also, Russian television has aired two documentaries that are hugely critical of Lukashenko.

A source at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Lukashenko arrived in the Armenian capital on Tuesday. Sarkisian’s office did not immediately confirm this.

“The president of Belarus is paying a private visit to Yerevan before the start of the unofficial CSTO summit,” Sarkisian’s spokesman Armen Arzumanian told the Interfax news agency later on Thursday. Arzumanian gave no further details.

It was thus not clear whether Lukashenko, who vacationed at an Armenian ski resort in 2009, could meet Medvedev before the CSTO summit. Russian media earlier quoted Medvedev as saying that he has no intention to hold talks with Lukashenko in Yerevan.

According to the Regnum news agency, two Armenian members of an inter-parliamentary commission on Armenian-Belarusian cooperation hinted on Wednesday at the possibility of such talks. One of them, Hovannes Markarian, said Yerevan could mediate in a dialogue between Moscow and Minsk.

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