Medvedev reportedly said after talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, that they had a detailed discussion on the agreement that extended Russia’s lease on a military base in Armenia by 24 years and upgraded its security mission. The deal took the form of amendments to a 1995 Russian-Armenian defense treaty.
“Maintaining peace in the Caucasus is very important for Russia,” Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as telling a joint news conference with Aliyev. “We are interested in seeing peace and order here. The Russian-Armenian agreement to prolong the deployment of the Russian military base in Gyumri should be viewed in this context.”
“There are no traps or other [ulterior] considerations,” he said, adding that the Russian troops stationed there will help reduce “difficulties” existing in the volatile region.
The agreement in question, which has prompted concern from some senior Azerbaijani officials, was signed during the Russian leader’s recent trip to Yerevan. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said at the signing ceremony that it enlarged “the geographical and strategic responsibility” of the Russian base.
Sitting next to Medvedev, Sarkisian stressed that the base will now be tasked with defending his country’s entire territory. He also emphasized the fact that the pact commits Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry.
Armenian officials say this will discourage Azerbaijan from acting on its growing threats to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force. Some of them have gone as far as to claim that the Russian military will openly support its Armenian ally in case of renewed war in Karabakh.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has played down the agreement’s significance. Speaking to Azerbaijani journalists last week, Lavrov insisted that it simply allows Moscow to keep troops in Armenia until 2044 and does not change their “functions.” Nor will the pact alter “the balance of forces in the region,” he said.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, Medvedev likewise said in Baku that the deal with Yerevan “means only one thing: the term of the base will be prolonged by several years.”
Medvedev also reaffirmed the Kremlin’s stated commitment to a Karabakh settlement and urged his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts not to lower the “intensity” of their periodical meetings. He said he is ready to host more face-to-face talks between Aliyev and Sarkisian.
Aliyev praised the Russian mediation in the protracted Karabakh peace process, which seems to be coordinated with the United States and France, the two other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. “I believe that the personal participation of Russia’s president is playing a positive role and that negotiations involving him are the most effective ones,” he said, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
Neither leader apparently made any mention of new peace proposals that Medvedev put forward to the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their June meeting in Saint Petersburg. Armenian leaders refer to them as a “new version” of the Minsk Group’s basic principles of a Karabakh settlement that is largely acceptable to Yerevan.
The Azerbaijani side says, however, that Moscow drafted those proposals single-handedly, without consulting with the two other mediating powers. The Foreign Ministry in Baku has rejected them as unacceptable.
Medvedev’s trip to Baku resulted in the signing of a deal formalizing the full demarcation of the Russian-Azerbaijani frontier. Under another agreement, Azerbaijan will double natural gas supplies to Russia in 2011-2012. In addition, Aliyev and Medvedev agreed to hold a special summit on energy issues, a key factor in regional geopolitics.
“This is not an ordinary visit,” Itar-Tass quoted Medvedev as saying at Baku State University later on Friday. “It is remarkable in the sense that we have effectively reached a new level of relations by signing a number of very important agreements that will strengthen our friendship and strategic partnership and lay the groundwork for the development of bilateral ties in the decades ahead.”