The European Union wants its relations with post-Soviet countries to grow stronger despite the current tensions with Russia, a visiting British official said in Yerevan on Monday.
Minister of State at the British Foreign Office David Lidington was on an official visit to Armenia during which he, in particular, held meetings with the country’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Nalbandian, Lidington, replying to a question from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on whether the current tense relations between the West and Russia would also affect the EU’s attitude towards Russia’s allies, such as Armenia, which is going to join a Russian-led trade bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, in January.
The British official said that neither London nor Brussels want to see their relations worsen with countries in Eastern Europe or in Central Asia. “The reverse is true – we wish in the UK and in the European Union more generally to see those relationships grow stronger,” he said, stressing that the nature of these relationships will, obviously, depend on the choices that different countries and their governments make in this regard.
The British official emphasized that the current tensions stem from the crisis in Ukraine in which the West has accused Russia of annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. He called on Russia to implement its obligations under the truce agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, in early September, including the restoration of Ukrainian control of the border with Russia and an end to Russian support for the armed separatist groups.
While in Yerevan Lidington also spoke about Turkish-Armenian relations, calling for the implementation of the protocols signed between Ankara and Yerevan back in 2009. “We believe that the protocols should be implemented without delay. And we want to see the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia,” the official emphasized, praising Foreign Minister Nalbandian’s attendance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent inauguration.
While attending the ceremony on August 27, Nalbandian forwarded an invitation to the Turkish leader from his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, to visit Yerevan on April 24, 2015, when Armenians around the world plan to commemorate the centenary of what many historians and more than two dozen governments recognize as the first genocide of the 20th century. Erdogan has not yet replied to the invitation. During a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris late last week the Turkish leader reportedly slammed Armenia and its far-flung Diaspora for using the Genocide issue as a political instrument.
Armenia, meanwhile, has all along advocated an unconditional normalization and opening of the border. It has repeatedly accused Turkey of stalling the rapprochement by linking the ratification of the protocols to progress in a separate Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in which Ankara would like to see a solution in favor of its regional ally Azerbaijan.
Speaking at a United Nations General Assembly session in late September, President Sarkisian effectively threatened to annul the 2009 agreements if Turkey continues to link their parliamentary ratification with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.