Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the political situation in Armenia with leaders of the political parties represented in parliament during a visit to Yerevan this week, it emerged on Wednesday.
Participants of the meetings, apparently the first of their kind, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that they also spoke about Russian-Armenian ties, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s strained relations with Turkey.
Karasin and other Russian diplomats arrived in Yerevan on Monday for regular consultations with officials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry. He held talks with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian the same day. Nalbandian’s press office said they reviewed “a broad range of issues relating to the further development of the Armenia-Russia strategic partnership and allied relationship.”
Karasin met with senior lawmakers from the three parties making up Armenia’s governing coalition and the two opposition parties represented in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
“We mainly discussed issues of the Armenia-Russia strategic partnership,” said Eduard Sharmazanov of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by President Serzh Sarkisian. The Karabakh conflict, Turkish-Armenian relations and “political developments” in Armenia were also on the agenda, he said.
Asked whether Karasin inquired about Armenia’s next parliamentary elections due in May 2012, Sharmazanov said, “Since there is still more than one year to go before the elections, we didn’t discuss them in detail. As the secretary of the HHK’s parliament faction, I presented our position on domestic and foreign policy priorities.”
The HHK’s main coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), was represented at the talks by its top leader, Gagik Tsarukian. In the words of a senior HHK parliamentarian, Aram Safarian, they touched upon “issues of Russian-Armenian cooperation.”
“At [Karasin’s] request, we also talked about the internal political situation in Armenia,” Safarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The BHK leaders briefed him on their “coalition cooperation” with the HHK, Safarian said.
Representatives of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Zharangutyun party said they discussed similar issues at their separate meetings with the Russian official.
In a written statement, Zharangutyun said its parliamentary leader, Stepan Safarian, and two other parliament deputies complained to Karasin that Russian companies are not making sufficient investments in the Armenian economy despite their “almost widespread” acquisition of business assets in the country. It said they also expressed concern about potential uranium mining in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region by a Russian-Armenian joint-venture.
While in Yerevan, Karasin did not meet representatives of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), the country’s largest opposition force that holds no parliament seats. The Russian official similarly declined to meet HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian when he visited Yerevan in the wake of Armenia’s March 2008 post-election unrest.
Karasin downplayed this fact at the time, saying that Moscow has enough “information about what they in the opposition camp think.” “We have friends in all spheres of Armenian political and public life,” he said.
The Russian Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday refused to comment on Karasin’s latest trip to Armenia. Armenian party leaders suggested different reasons for it.
Dashnaktsutyun deputy Artyusha Shahbazian pointed to the stalled Karabakh peace process. “I don’t exclude that the Russian side is primarily interested in knowing the parliamentary forces’ take on a Karabakh settlement,” he said.
Zharangutyun’s Larisa Alaverdian suggested that Moscow is worried about a repeat of the 2008 unrest and wants to know “just how stable the internal situation here is.” “I find it normal that our strategic partner wants to get information about the situation here from different sources,” she said.
But the HHK’s Sharmazanov disagreed. “I don’t think the political situation in Armenia is such that it could worry anyone, including our strategic partner,” he said.