“To try and artificially link those two issues is, in my opinion, not correct,” Lavrov said after talks his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian, echoing remarks made by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
According to the Armenian presidential press office, Lavrov cited those remarks, which reflect official Yerevan’s position on the matter, at a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian later in the day. Both the Karabakh negotiating process and the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement were on the meeting’s agenda along with bilateral issues, the office said in a statement.
“We are grateful to the Russian Federation for its big efforts towards settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and relations between Armenia and Turkey,” Sarkisian was quoted as telling the visiting Russian official.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Nalbandian, Lavrov expressed hope that the Turkish-Armenian agreements signed in his presence in October will be implemented soon. “We are interested in this relationship normalizing,” he said. “The sooner that happens, the better for the whole region.”
While ruling out Russian mediation in that process, Lavrov said Moscow is ready to assist in the development of direct commercial ties between the two neighbors. He seemed to allude to the fact that Russian companies dominate Armenia’s energy sector and manage the country’s rail network. They are thus widely seen as key beneficiaries of a possible opening of the Turkish-Armenian border envisaged by the agreements.
Nalbandian, for his part, again warned Ankara against linking their ratification by the Turkish parliament with a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan. “I -- and I think the international community -- would not like to have the impression that Turkey is deliberately blocking the ratification process as it would mean that they are not fulfilling their obligations to ratify [the protocols] in a reasonable time frame,” he said.
Lavrov denied any connection between the timing of his trip to Yerevan and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Wednesday talks in Moscow aimed at cementing growing Turkish-Russian economic cooperation. He insisted that Moscow will not place its deepening ties with Ankara above an Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement reflecting the interests of Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population.
He said the Karabakh Armenians’ views “can not fail to be taken into account” during the elaboration of a comprehensive peace accord. “What form that will take will have to be agreed on,” added Lavrov.
Neither minister commented on prospects for the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework deal this year. One of Lavrov’s deputies, Grigory Karasin, sounded cautiously optimistic on that score. “The process is difficult but it is moving forward,” Karasin told RFE/RL. “It is not stagnating.”
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Samvel Farmanian, said later in the day that the Armenian leader will visit Moscow on Monday at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s invitation. He told RFE/RL that Sarkisian and Medvedev could discuss the possibility of having another trilateral meeting with their Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev.
Commenting on the likelihood of fresh Armenian-Azerbaijani summits, Nalbandian said, “In the near future, those meetings could continue if we manage to maintain the positive dynamics that existed in 2009. That would help us move even closer to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”