YEREVAN—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday signaled his willingness to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but he reiterated his earlier assertion that there cannot be a resolution to the conflict without the participation Artsakh, which he said has been made clear in all statements by the leader of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries.
Pashinyan was speaking at a wide-ranging press conference that lasted more than two and a half hours, and he discussed not only the Karabakh conflict resolution process, but also Armenia’s relations with Europe. Pashinyan also expressed his shock and astonishment at the level of corruption that has been unearthed since he took office in early May.
“I’m ready to negotiate with the President of Azerbaijan, because meetings and discussions are important, because we need to establish an atmosphere of trust without which a reolution is impossible,” said Pashinyan.
“We are ready to take steps toward creating an atmosphere conducive to the conflict resolution. On the other hand we say that Azerbaijan’s aggressive and bellicose rhetoric is unacceptable to us. We tell the international community, the Co-Chairs that we are ready to take steps toward the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, which requires an appropriately conducive atmosphere,” he added.
“We must be ready for war at any given moment,” said Pashinyan acknowledging that the threat of war is always present.
He added, however, that Russia, as a superpower has all levers to prevent the resumption of military actions in the region and all levers to prevent Aliyev from resorting to war.
“I cannot believe that Armenia’s strategic partner and centuries-old friend Russia will not use its levers to prevent war in the region,” said Pashinyan.
The Prime Minister opined that Azerbaijan’s more aggressive posturing after the popular movement in Armenia that toppled the Serzh Sarkisaian administration has created concerns with the Azerbaijani authorities who, he said, feared that their own people could get inspired by democratic changes in Armenia and the fight against corruption.
“They fear that the processes could move to Azerbaijan and thus are trying to divert the attention of their civil society from corruption and state of democracy to the Karabakh issue,” explained Pashinyan.
Arms Sales to Azerbaijan
When asked about the sale of weapons to Azerbaijan by Belarus and Israel, the Prime Minister said he has raised the issue with Israeli Ambassador, who has just started his mission in Armenia, as well as the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
“During all discussions and meeting I have raised issues of concern for Armenia and have talked to the President of Belarus about the sale of weapons to Azerbaijan,” said Pashinyan, adding that the matter still remained on the agenda between the two countries.
He also said that there was a need to clarify the responsibilities of fellow member-states in the Collective Security Treaty Organization—CSTO—saying that he envisioned that members of the group must have obligations toward one another.
“If we are all members of the same organization, we all have responsibilities toward each other. If we specify those obligations, it will eventually raise the effectiveness of the organization,” explained Pashinyan.
The prime minister also answered questions about his visit last week to Brussels where he met with among others, French President Emanuel Macron and European Union leaders. During those meetings, Pashinyan expressed surprise that there are EU leaders who have not notices the changes in Armenia and are pressing Yerevan for more concrete steps in advancing democratic institutions and fighting corruption.
“For many years, the EU said that it does business with Eastern Partnership countries under the so-called ‘more for more’ formula and on the basis of values shared by all of us—democracy, independent judiciary, transparency, rule of law, fight against corruption,” said Pashinyan, adding that before leaving for Brussels he had gotten indications from the EU that they were going to assist Armenia in those realms.
Pashinyan told reporters Friday that he was baffled at the fact that during his meetings in Brussels some “EU partners” had voiced that they expected changes in Armenia “as they did before.”
“In order to set the record straight, I gave concrete examples,” Pashinian went on. “I said that the current government did more, without spending a penny, to combat corruption in one month than what happened during cooperation between the EU and Armenia’s [previous] government at a cost of tens of millions of euros [in EU funding.] I said that my government did more for advancing an independent judicial system in Armenia in one week or even day than what was done as a result of cooperation between the EU and Armenia’s former government costing tens of millions of euros.”
“Armenia had relations with the EU before the velvet revolution, the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was signed before the velvet revolution, and we have said that we will respect our international commitments,” Pashinyan said.