President Serzh Sarkisian will receive a top U.S. official and fly to Saint Petersburg this week for fresh talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that are expected to focus on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian’s office announced the trip in a short statement issued on Monday. It said nothing about the agenda of his upcoming meeting with Medvedev scheduled for Friday.
The meeting will come amid continuing Russian-Armenian negotiations on the price of Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia. Armenian officials have said Yerevan still hopes to prevent another price hike planned by Russia’s Gazprom monopoly.
The Karabakh conflict has always been on the agenda of frequent contacts between the Armenian and Russian leaders. Medvedev has been personally involved in international efforts to broker its peaceful settlement.
The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza, said last week that Medvedev will host yet another meeting of Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on March 5. Sarkisian’s office has declined to confirm that.
The Armenian president will travel to Saint Petersburg after holding talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. The latter is scheduled to arrive in Yerevan on Wednesday and proceed to Baku the next day.
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Steinberg will discuss with Armenian officials bilateral ties and the current state of the Karabakh negotiating process.
Armenian analysts said the Karabakh issue will be the main focus of Steinberg’s talks in Yerevan and Baku. They suggested that both Moscow and Washington are now seeking to reinvigorate a process that reached an impasse at the OSCE’s December summit in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
“The Astana summit in December left things in limbo,” Manvel Sargsian, a senior analyst at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is an attempt to restore the negotiating format at the presidential level,” he said.
“I think the main purpose of these visits is to get the two leaders to at least meet again and prevent what happened in Astana,” agreed Aleksandr Iskandarian, director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute.
Both pundits saw little prospect of a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. “Nobody intends to make any real concessions in Yerevan, Stepanakert or Baku,” said Iskandarian.
Meanwhile, the conflicting parties continued to report on Monday skirmishes between their troops across their main “line of contact” around Karabakh. The Azerbaijani military said one of its soldiers was killed and another one wounded at different sections of the frontline.
The armed forces in Karabakh and Armenia denied violating the ceasefire regime. An Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman said it is the Azerbaijani side that breached it “on numerous occasions” throughout the day.
Military authorities in Baku also said seven Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in a separate, non-combat incident on Monday. Local media said one of them went on a rampage before turning the gun on himself. They said the conscripts aged 18 and 19 were on patrol at a military post in the Goygol district northwest of Karabakh.