The chief of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s staff visited Armenia on Monday just two days before the start of the OSCE’s summit in Kazakhstan which Moscow hopes will see decisive progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The official, Sergei Naryshkin, met President Serzh Sarkisian following the latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy by the Russian, U.S. and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The mediators discussed in Baku and Yerevan late last week preparations for high-level Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations due to be held on the sidelines of the summit.
A statement on Sarkisian’s meeting Naryshkin issued by the Armenian presidential press office made no mention of the Karabakh issue. It said only that the two men discussed Russian-Armenian relations.
Sarkisian was cited as saying that bilateral ties are “intensively developing” and welcoming a sizable rise in Russian-Armenian trade observed this year. “Believe me, Russia too attaches great importance to strategic partnership with Armenia,” the Kremlin official replied, according to the statement.
Sarkisian and Medvedev discussed this and other issues of mutual interest, including the Karabakh dispute, when they last met in Moscow on November 17.
The Russian leader hosted fresh face-to-face talks between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Astrakhan, southern Russia late last month. He expressed hope that the parties will bridge their remaining differences on the “basic principles” of the conflict’s resolution, proposed by the three mediating powers, in time for the OSCE summit scheduled for December 1-2.
It was the seventh Armenian-Azerbaijani summit organized by Medvedev in less than three years -- a fact underscoring his strong personal involvement in the Karabakh negotiating process.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev reportedly described Medvedev’s efforts as “sincere” but questioned other Russian leaders’ commitment to Karabakh peace when he met with the visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns last February. A leaked written account of that meeting, purportedly sent to Washington by the U.S. charge d’affaires in Baku, Donald Lu, is among more than 250,000 classified State Department documents released by WikiLeaks on Sunday.
According to the leaked cable, Aliyev said he believes that Russia’s powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has his “own separate opinion about the desirability of a [Karabakh] resolution.” “I have no evidence, but I can feel this,” he is quoted as telling Burns.
Aliyev is said to have used a “coarse street slang” to describe Putin’s relationship with Medvedev. “Many high-ranking officials don’t recognize (Medvedev) as a leader,” he allegedly added.
The U.S. diplomat further quoted Aliyev as complaining that Sarkisian is pressing Russia and the two other mediating powers to set a date for a would-be referendum of self-determination in Karabakh.
The holding of such a referendum is a key element of the framework peace accord drafted by the Minsk Group co-chairs. Karabakh’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population would presumably be able to formalize its secession from Azerbaijan years after Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave.
Disagreements between Baku and Yerevan over practical modalities of the proposed vote have been one of the main stumbling blocks in the peace process.
In Aliyev’s words, the existing version of the basic principles sets no definite time frame for the referendum. The Armenians would in return be able to legitimize “the illegally established regime in Nagorno-Karabakh” in the interim, he said.
Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, on Monday denied the comments attributed to the Azerbaijani leader. Mammadov, who was present at the February meeting, told the APA news agency that Aliyev did not talk about any “third country” with Burns.