Top representatives of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) and leading Armenian opposition groups expressed concern on Tuesday about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Azerbaijan that may have further improved Russia’s relations with Armenia’s arch-foe.
Putin arrived in Baku for talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev that resulted in the signing of several bilateral agreements. The most important of them was signed by the chief executives of the state-owned oil companies of the two nations rich in hydrocarbons.
Putin and Aliyev praised the current state of Russian-Azerbaijani relations at a joint news conference. The Russian leader referred to Azerbaijan as a reliable partner of Russia and said the two states are “closely interacting” in the region. Aliyev likewise said that their “friendly and good-neighborly” ties are developing.
The two presidents also mentioned the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Putin emphasizing that it can be solved “only by political means.” Aliyev regularly threatens a military solution the conflict.
Putin’s visit came less than two months after it emerged that Russia has begun delivering $1 billion worth of offensive weapons to Azerbaijan. This prompted serious concern from Armenian politicians, pundits and media. Some commentators in Yerevan openly accused Moscow of betraying its Armenia, its sole regional ally. The Armenian government refrained from publicly criticizing the Russian arms sales to Armenia, however.
“Naturally, any bilateral relationship between our enemy and partner states cannot fail to worry us because Azerbaijan is known for its adventurist approach to [international] politics,” said Artak Zakarian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations and a senior member of the ruling HHK.
“Azerbaijan is ready to exploit its relationship with any state for painting a distorted picture of its actions in the region,” Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But he insisted that there will be no major change in Russia’s position on the Karabakh conflict. Zakarian also denied any worsening of Russian-Armenian relations because of Armenia’s desire to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union and avoid joining a new Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states.
Armenian opposition leaders think otherwise. Vladimir Karapetian, the foreign policy spokesman for the Armenian National Congress (HAK), claimed that by ignoring a reported invitation from President Serzh Sarkisian and visiting Baku instead Putin sent a stern warning to Yerevan. “These are very worrisome developments for Armenia,” he said. “We must be prepared for further developments, especially in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.”
Karapetian blamed Yerevan for what he described as the latest strains in Russian-Armenian ties. He said Sarkisian has failed to maintain “the balance” in Armenia’s relations with Russia and the West.
Stepan Safarian, a leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, a more pro-Western opposition group, similarly claimed that the Russian-Armenian relationship has been “poisoned” by Yerevan’s European integration drive. But he stopped short of criticizing the Sarkisian administration.
“The decision by the head of such a big regional power to visit Armenia’s adversary carries a message,” Safarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Moscow is trying to establish strategic partnership with Armenia’s adversary.”
“The Kremlin, which is unhappy with the Yerevan-Brussels rapprochement, could try to touch Yerevan’s rawest nerve: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he said.
Giro Manoyan, a senior member of another major opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), was more cautious. While saying that Putin’s one-day trip to Baku was “not an ally’s behavior,” Manoyan insisted that it will not have serious ramifications for the Karabakh dispute.
“I think that the visit will not have a substantial impact on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because I don’t think that Russia wants the conflict to be resolved now,” he explained.