John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, on Thursday voiced Washington’s disappointment with the Armenian government’s decision to effectively recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea strongly condemned by the West.
Heffern described as “very unfortunate” President Serzh Sarkisian’s statement to that effect made during a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The envoy reiterated the official U.S. line that the weekend referendum in which residents of Crimea voted for becoming part of Russia was illegal. “There are many things [the Russians] could have done short of what they did,” he said at an international conference on regional security held in Yerevan.
Sarkisian was quoted by his press office as telling Putin that the vote engineered by Moscow was “yet another example of the realization of peoples’ right to self-determination.” Official Yerevan had until then avoided taking sides in the broader crisis in Ukraine that has brought about Russia’s most serious standoff with the West since the end of the Cold War.
Heffern did not say whether Sarkisian’s move will seriously harm U.S.-Armenian relations. The U.S. administration has imposed asset freezes and visa bans on some Russian officials involved in the seizure of Crimea and is considering slapping more serious sanctions on Russia.
Sarkisian has enjoyed U.S. support throughout his six-year presidency not least because of his foreign policy initiatives, notably an attempted rapprochement with Turkey. He faced no public criticism from U.S. officials even after unexpectedly deciding last year to make Armenia part of a Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states at the expense of an Association Agreement with the European Union.