Armenia on Tuesday denounced Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for objecting, at a meeting with an Azerbaijani official, to its efforts to install another Armenian secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Russia and five other ex-Soviet states making up the alliance agreed in 2015 that their representatives will take turns to run the organization on a rotating basis. They appointed Armenia’s Yuri Khachaturov as CSTO secretary general in 2017.
The new Armenian government cut shot Khachaturov’s three-year tour of duty after he was controversially charged in July in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. It hoped that another Armenian official will be allowed to replace Khachaturov and run the CSTO until 2020.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted on that at a CSTO summit held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on November 8. Lukashenko as well as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev demanded, however, that a representative of Belarus be named as new head of the CSTO.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly proposed a compromise solution that would see the CSTO’s acting secretary general, Valery Semerikov, retain his position in the interim.
The CSTO leaders said they will again try to reach consensus on the issue when they meet again in Saint Petersburg, Russia on December 6.
Lukashenko made a point of reaffirming his position when he met on Monday with a senior diplomat from Azerbaijan, a country which is at war with Armenia and not part of the CSTO. He noted another Russian-led bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, is also run by an Armenian.
“This is a very heavy burden for a country which is going through a period of transition,” added Lukashenko. “Can Armenia carry that burden?”
Lukashenko’s comments raised eyebrows in Yerevan. Local politicians and commentators believe he deliberately made them at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Minsk in order to add insult to injury.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, also criticized the remarks. “Armenia regards the CSTO as a platform for discussions on the collective security agenda applying to six states … This development highlights the need for the CSTO to sort out issues within itself, and as regards this situation, I must point out that it is not correct after all,” she told reporters.
Lukashenko has never made his secret of his warm rapport with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The long-serving Belarusian leader underlined it at Monday’s meeting with the Azerbaijani diplomat, saying that all of his agreements with Aliyev are “sacred” for him.
In particular, Belarus has been a major supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. Those include Belarusian-made Polonez missiles that have a firing range of 200 kilometers. The Azerbaijani military apparently acquired them early this year.
In early 2017, Lukashenko also sparked a bitter diplomatic row with Yerevan after ordering Belarusian law-enforcement authorities to arrest and hand over to Azerbaijan a Russian-Israeli blogger who had repeatedly visited Nagorno-Karabakh without Baku’s permission.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the move and implicitly branded Belarus a “dictatorship.” Senior Armenian lawmakers launched even more scathing attacks on Lukashenko at the time.