(AFP, AP) - A proposal announced by Russia's top brass to move arms from controversial military bases in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to Moscow's regional ally Armenia angered officials in neighboring Azerbaijan on Friday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Russia had previously moved weaponry from Georgia to Armenia, which was involved in a bitter war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh territory in the early 1990s. "We are seriously concerned and we would not want Russia to take such a step now," he told journalists.
Russia's military chief of staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, said Thursday that moving armaments from Georgia to Armenia could help speed Russia's withdrawal from a republic that has become increasingly hostile to its presence. However, Azerbaijan is technically still at war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which forces loyal to Yerevan have occupied since 1994.
"The situation in the region is very sensitive, the atmosphere of security and stability must be taken into consideration," Azimov said.
Russia has military bases in both Georgia and Armenia but Georgia has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from its territory, as Western influence there and in Azerbaijan increases at Moscow's expense. Azerbaijan and especially Georgia have received considerable military aid from the United States and NATO in the past few years and both countries form a key link in a US-backed energy corridor spanning Turkey and Central Asia.
In a separate development, a conference devoted to studying the Talysh minority opened in the Armenian resort of Tsaghkadzor on Friday. The minority, estimated to number 80,000 people, lives in Azerbaijan and Iran.
Twelve experts were to address the conference, including two specialists from Azerbaijan who have been living in exile in Moscow. Vardan Voskanian, one of the conference
organizers, said Armenia was chosen as the venue because it has a well developed specialty of eastern studies.
Azerbaijan, Armenia's rival, has accused the Talysh of separatism, and Azerbaijani media have reacted negatively to the prospect of the conference.