President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday reaffirmed his support for Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, again defending a referendum in Crimea that led to the Black Sea region’s annexation by Moscow.
Sarkisian emphasized Armenia’s stance on the matter, criticized by the West, in his opening remarks at an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held in Moscow.
“Armenia unequivocally stated that from our perspective the conduct of the referendum in Crimea is yet another example of the realization of people’s right to self-determination through a free expression of will,” he told the fellow presidents of Russia and three other ex-Soviet states aligned in the Russian-led bloc.
“At the same, we are extremely concerned about growing violence in Ukraine, including in connection with the events in Odessa, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and other regions,” he said, referring to Russian-speaking areas of the country that have seen deadly fighting or clashes in recent weeks.
In what appeared to be criticism of military action ordered by the Ukrainian government against armed pro-Russian separatists controlling several cities in eastern Ukraine, Sarkisian added that “preferring forcible methods of suppressing people’s right to self-determination to dialogue leads to catastrophic consequences.”
The pro-Western government in Kiev as well as the United States and the European Union have blamed Russia for the deadly escalation, saying that the militants are armed and coordinated by Moscow. The latter denies any involvement in the potential civil war.
The Western powers criticized Yerevan after it recognized the outcome of the internationally condemned referendum in Crimea and voted against a pro-Ukrainian resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in March. The resolution was also opposed by Russia and a handful of “rogue states” like North Korea, Syria and Sudan.
The Armenian government and its political allies defended the vote, saying that it is consistent with Armenia’s long-standing support for the principle of self-determination in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Government critics in Yerevan dismiss this explanation, however, saying that Sarkisian is simply keen to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir in the hope of clinging to power. They point to the fact that three other CSTO member states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- avoided international embarrassment by abstaining or not voting at all.
Sarkisian on Thursday seemingly chided the three Central Asian states for not openly siding with Russia. “I think that we need to strictly agree to coordinate our foreign policy actions because otherwise things turn out to be somewhat strange,” he said, citing the Armenian vote at the UN assembly.
Sarkisian’s pro-Russian stance is in tune with his abrupt decision last August to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Customs Union at the expense of a planned Association Agreement with the European Union.
At a separate meeting with Putin on Thursday, Sarkisian stressed the importance of that decision, saying that it “enriched the agenda” of Russian-Armenian ties. “I am happy that Russian-Armenian strategic relations and allied partnership are dynamically developing. We will continue doing our best to deepen these relations,” he said in remarks posted on the Kremlin’s website.