By Armen Zakarian
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko held talks with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on Friday, focusing on the development of bilateral commercial ties and efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The visit was part of his tour of the three South Caucasian nations. Zlenko said after talk in Baku on Tuesday that Ukraine is “categorically” against a military solution to the conflict, apparently reacting to Azerbaijani threats to win back Karabakh by force. In Yerevan, he spoke of the need to respect the principle of countries’ territorial integrity in the settlement of ethnic disputes. That principle is championed by Azerbaijan in the Karabakh peace talks.
Official Kiev’s position on the Karabakh issue was, nonetheless, praised by Armenian officials. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart that Kiev is “ready to use its good offices for the [peaceful] resolution of the conflict.” “We think that this is a sensible position and we work with Ukraine very closely so that we can achieve this in the coming months,” he told reporters at a joint news conference.
The press office of the Armenian foreign ministry quoted Zlenko as telling Oskanian that “despite bellicose statements the Azerbaijani president sees only a peaceful solution to the problem.” President Heydar Aliev warned on Wednesday his country will go to war to take back Karabakh if the peace talks fail.
Oskanian rejected the argument that Armenia’s close ties with Russia hamper Ukraine’s deeper involvement in the region. “I disagree with that conclusion,” he said. “Russia is a member of the [OSCE] Minsk Group. They are playing a very positive role in the resolution of the [Karabakh] conflict.”
Ukraine, which has often had uneasy relations with Russia over the past decade, is the main driving force behind the GUUAM grouping of five former Soviet republics, including neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, keen to limit Moscow’s influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Zlenko’s meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian was dominated by economic issues, officials said. The two men called for a further increase in the volume of bilateral trade which has grown substantially this year. Zlenko reaffirmed Ukraine’s interest in the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia. A joint communiqué singed by the Armenian and Ukrainian foreign ministers said the two nations agreed, among other things, to develop more investment projects in an effort to “deepen” their economic cooperation.
The two governments signed a ten-year plan of economic cooperation during President Robert Kocharian’s official visit to Kiev in March. Officials hope that it will allow to triple bilateral trade, which stood at a modest $15.5 million last year, by 2003. In another development, a Ukrainian company was last month given a controlling stake in the Nairit chemical giant in a $28 million deal with the Armenian government.
Zlenko wrapped up the visit with a meeting with Kocharian later in the day.