In what some observers see as a deliberate snub, President Serzh Sarkisian will not take part in an informal summit of Russia and its ex-Soviet military allies that will take place in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on Tuesday.
Sarkisian’s office on Monday declined to give a clear reason for his decision not to attend the meeting of heads of state from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The presidential press secretary, Arman Saghatelian, said only that participation in the Bishkek summit is “not on his schedule.”
The summit will coincide with a public holiday marking the creation in 1918 of a short-lived independent Armenian republic.
Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus is the only other president of a CSTO member state to steer clear of the summit. Lukasheko has been at loggerheads with the current Kyrgyz government because of granting political asylum to Kurmanbek Bakiev, the fugitive former president of the Central Asian state.
Armenia will be represented at the summit by Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Artur Baghdasarian, the secretary of the presidential National Security Council. Nalbandian attended on Monday a meeting of foreign ministers of Russia and the five other CSTO member states. He also held separate talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov and Nalbandian discussed “issues of maintaining security and stability” in the South Caucasus. The meeting took place “in a friendly and constructive atmosphere,” it said.
Richard Giragosian, a Yerevan-based political analyst, called Sarkisian’s absence unprecedented, saying that Armenian presidents are not known to have shunned such gatherings in the past. “It is significant that the Armenian president has decided not to attend the meeting,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Giragosian suggested that Sarkisian may be responding to the latest sharp increase in the price of Russian natural gas for Armenia or what he called Russian pressure to join the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. He said Yerevan is trying to emphasize that it is not only reliant on close military cooperation with Russia but is also deepening ties with the West. “This is a message from the Armenian president that Armenia should not be taken for granted,” he claimed.
Sarkisian praised Armenia’s ties with “strategic ally Russia” on Saturday as he accepted the credentials of the new Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Ivan Volynkin. He said the Russian-Armenian relationship is “deepening in all areas.”
Volynkin was quoted by Sarkisian’s press service as hailing “the unprecedented level of mutual understanding” in bilateral ties. He also described Armenia as a “brotherly” country.