BAKU (ISRIA)–Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Azerbaijan Wednesday for a two-day working visit where he is scheduled to hold talks with President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammedyarov on the deepening of bilateral relations between Moscow and Baku, the Russian embassy in Azerbaijan reported Wednesday.
In an interview with various Azeri news agencies on Tuesday, Lavrov outlined his trip’s agenda and discussed a number of outstanding issues between the two countries, including allegations denied by Russia that it had supplied Armenia with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware and other weapons free of charge last year. Lavrov also spoke about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Nabucco pipeline, and plans to transform the Collective Security Treaty Organization into a more organized NATO-like military alliance with a standing rapid reaction force to conduct peacekeeping missions throughout the former Soviet Union.
An Azerbaijani news website, Mediaforum.az, published in January scanned copies of what it called a document certifying the transfer of the weapons that belonged to Russian troops stationed in Armenia. The document, signed by a deputy commander of Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, contained a long list of armamen’s allegedly handed over to the Armenian military. Those included 21 battle tanks, 50 armored vehicles, about 40 artillery systems and more than 4,000 automatic rifles along with large quantities of ammunition.
Since the document’s publication, official Baku has repeatedly pressed Moscow for answers, protesting the Russian Foreign Ministry and demanding an in depth investigation into the matter.
Lavrov Tuesday again brushed aside the allegations, saying that Russia had “not transferred any weapons or military equipment” from its military base in Gyumri to Armenia.
“We regret that this publication, which is nothing but an act of information sabotage, so easily found its %u218targets’ in Azerbaijan,” Lavrov said, in response to a reporter’s question on whether or not Russia was open to conducting more detailed investigations into the claims. “I do not think that there is a need for any additional investigations, because all the statemen’s which the Russian side has made via diplomatic channels are based on facts and the conclusions of the Russian military leadership.”
There is “no room for doubt,” he stressed, adding that Moscow understood Baku’s sensitivity to the “complicated situation in relations” between Armenia. He added that these “artificial reports” will “not be able to hinder us from building our strategic partnership
Responding to questions about Russia’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Lavrov said it has “repeatedly been voiced” and “is well known.”
“Russia’stands ready to support a compromise agreement, which will suit all the parties involved,” he said. “We think that a solution is possible that will make it feasible to return stability and calm to Transcaucasia.”
This solution, which Lavrov said Moscow would serve as a guarantor for, will help “preserve the historically established geopolitical balance of power in the region and not lead to its becoming an arena for international political and military rivalry,” he added.
Lavrov was also asked to comment on the Moscow Declaration and its role in the negotiations process. Signed in November between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Moscow Declaration pledged the two presidents to intensifying their efforts in seeking a negotiated peace and a mutually acceptable compromise. The nonbinding document, in particular, referred to the principles drafted by the Minsk Group and presented to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE summit in Madrid in November 2007 as a likely basis for continued talks on a peace accord.
“I have already said on previous occasions that this document is of great importance, primarily in the sense that the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia unambiguously affirmed their intention and readiness to continue their bilateral summit meetings in order to finish agreeing on a political settlement,” Lavrov said, noting that the summit which gave rise to the signing of the document “received powerful support at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Helsinki in December of the same year.”
He described the document as one that would ensure the return of “peace and calm” to the Caucasus” and pointed to a January meeting between Aliyev and Sarkisian in Zurich, Switzerland as evidence that “the document is already working for a settlement” of the conflict.
Lavrov was also asked to comment on the Nabucco project, a proposed pipeline that would carry energy supplies from the Caspian Sea to Western Europe through Azerbaijan and Turkey, bypassing Ukraine and Russia.
“Azerbaijan’s decision to participate in international energy projects is its sovereign right and we treat that with respect. This applies to the Nabucco pipeline project,” Lavrov said, adding that Moscow “shares a common understanding of the need to diversify energy supply routes”
“For this purpose we are implementing the projects for the construction of alternative gas pipelines to different regions of the continent,” he said. “In the first place, this is about the North and South Stream pipelines. As is known, the Blue Stream gas pipeline has been put into operation.”
Lavrov noted, however, that the “chief criteria” in selecting a route for transporting oil and gas to Europe must be its “economic efficiency, reliability and environmental safety.” The quickest and cheapest rout for transporting energy from the Caspian to Europe traverses Armenia. But Nabucco, like the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline before it, will bypass the landlocked country. “We are against an unnecessary politicization of this process,” Lavrov added.