The talks coincided with the second and final day of a European Union-Russia summit, also held in Rostov-on-Don, and came just three weeks after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s high-profile visit to Turkey.
Opening the meeting with Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian, Medvedev said they will discuss Russian-Armenian economic ties and “regional issues” of mutual interest. “I have had several important trips [abroad] during which -- I won’t hide that -- we also discussed the situation with the Turkish-Armenian settlement and some other issues,” he said in remarks publicized by the Kremlin.
“I have had contacts with some European colleagues. So I have something to tell you, something to share with you,” added Medvedev.
“Working meetings are very important,” Sarkisian was reported to reply. “I think that this is a very good format.”
Neither the Kremlin, nor official Yerevan released any details of their ensuing conversation. Sarkisian’s office said only that Medvedev agreed to visit Armenia in August.
The office announced on Monday that Sarkisian has been invited by his Russian counterpart to pay a two-day “working visit” to Rostov-on-Don. It said the Armenian leader will attend an annual horse race organized by Medvedev and meet with the governor of the Rostov region as well as leaders of the local Armenian community. There was no word on the agenda of his meeting with Medvedev.
Medvedev reportedly discussed with Turkish leaders the stalled process of normalizing Turkey’s relations with Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally, when he visited Ankara last month. He reiterated Moscow’s stated support for the success of that effort strongly backed by the West.
Medvedev also appeared to sidestep implicit Turkish calls for a stronger Russian pressure on Armenia, which Ankara says is essential for achieving a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and thereby unlocking its fence-mending negotiations with Yerevan. Still, he said Moscow will consult with the Turks in its Karabakh-related diplomacy, prompting concern in Armenian political circles.
Opposition politicians and some analysts in Yerevan claim that the Russian leadership could pressure Armenia to make more concessions to Azerbaijan for the sake of Russia’s increasingly warm and deep rapport with Turkey. Armenian leaders dismiss this speculation. They also rule out any Turkish involvement in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations jointly mediated by the United States, Russia and France.
Earlier this year, Sarkisian praised the Russians for publicly rejecting the Turkish linkage between a Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. The EU likewise favors an unconditional establishment of diplomatic ties between the two neighbors and opening of the Turkish-Armenian border.
Medvedev and Sarkisian already discussed the Turkish-Armenian normalization and the Karabakh dispute at their previous face-to-face meeting held in Moscow in late April. It came one week after Sarkisian’s talks in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“As close partners, as strategic allies -- I’ve picked a more precise term -- we must see each other often,” Medvedev told Sarkisian. He thanked the Armenian president for attending last month’s celebrations in Moscow of the 65th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
“I was very pleased with that,” added Medvedev. “And, of course, that demonstrates the extent of the closeness of our states and their desire to develop strategic ties in the future.”
According to Richard Giragosian, director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, with the Rostov meeting Moscow sought to send a clear message to the West and the U.S. in particular. “This is a Russian diplomatic answer to the April summit in Washington, during which the Armenian president met with the Turkish prime minister,” he told RFE/RL. “This is an example of Russia exercising, demonstrating its diplomatic importance and significance in terms of Armenian-Turkish relations.”
Another analyst, Tevan Poghosian of the Yerevan-based International Center for Human Development, said the talks were an opportunity for Sarkisian to get more information about the recent Armenia-related diplomacy involving Russia and other foreign powers. “I believe that strategic partners must use every opportunity to review their relationship,” Poghosian told RFE/RL.