The foreign minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, arrived yesterday (5 May) in Yerevan for meetings with the acting Armenian government’s top officials. The Russian foreign minister was met off the plane by the acting foreign minister of Armenia, Ara Ayvazyan.
Speaking today (6 May) at a joint press conference of the foreign ministers, Lavrov referred to the countries as “time-tested allies”, noting that political dialogue at the highest level was developing and highlighting that their leaders had had two face-to-face meetings and eight phone calls this year amongst other examples. He expressed appreciation for the countries’ interaction on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Lavrov noted that the during his visit, the countries had signed an intergovernmental memorandum on biological safety. He spotlighted the countries’ joint efforts in the fight against the coronavirus – that Russia had delivered tens of thousands of Sputnik V vaccines to Armenia and they are now working out the issues involved in the purchase of a further one million vaccines and the production of Russian vaccines on Armenian territory.
Russia’s most senior diplomat then touched on educational co-operation and the countries’ positions on subjects within regional multilateral institutions before moving onto the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Lavrov revealed that the men had noted the progress achieved and the stabilisation of the situation. He spoke about continuing efforts towards the return of detained persons, demining, the protection of cultural heritage, and launching the work of specialist international organisations in Nagorno-Karabakh. He highlighted the important contribution of the trilateral working group – made up of the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia – to unblock economic ties and regional transport links. Notably, Lavrov stated that primarily, further activities of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs are in demand.
However, asked in detail about the role of the OSCE Minsk Group and whether the co-chairing countries had agreed to resume the peace process, Lavrov was less clear. He responded that the peace process had been put in motion, again spotlighting the “practical solution of issues” by the trilateral working group. He asserted that Russia was more interested than anyone in the realisation of the aims of the trilateral group having played a decisive role in getting to this point and having a presence of peacekeepers in Karabakh. He suggested that practical solutions being implemented would lead to real change, saying that there was “no need to politicise the process” and that those that would delegate these practical issues for later in favour of political discussions would “turn the whole process upside down”.
Lavrov was also asked about Russia-EU relations, the entire architecture of which he referred to as destroyed by Brussels in connection with the events in Ukraine. He blamed the EU for supporting an “anti-constitutional coup d’état” in Ukraine and argued that Russia was only supporting the voices of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians, including in Crimea, stating that “ultra-radicals” had seized power in Kyiv. He said that the sanctions against Russia and its people could not go unanswered, blaming a Russo-phobic lobby in the EU.
The Russian diplomat was also asked about the comments of the Azerbaijani president, regarding the use of force in the implementation of a ‘Zangezur corridor’. Lavrov said:
“[The trilateral working group] provides for agreements that can be exclusively voluntary, mutually beneficial, and in no way imply anything other than diplomatic agreement and a decision that allowed economic ties to be fully unblocked. Any questions that might run counter to these agreements of the three leaders, of course, cannot be perceived as an alternative to what was agreed.”
Speaking at the joint conference, the acting Armenian foreign minister said that the two officials had discussed a wide range of topics during the visit related to Armenian Russian co-operation, in both bilateral and multilateral contexts. Ayvazyan made special reference to efforts towards the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, noting that the men had discussed where best to intensify their countries’ joint efforts. Referencing a detailed discussion over the situation that developed after the 10 November ceasefire, Ayvazyan credited the Russian military contingent – deployed in Karabakh as a peacekeeping force as part of the ceasefire agreement – with preventing “further mass atrocities” against Armenians in the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).
The acting foreign minister expressed appreciation of Russia’s efforts to implement the agreements of the ceasefire, and its role in the repatriation of some of the prisoners of war held by Azerbaijan; however, noted that some Armenians remained in Azerbaijani detention.
Ayvazyan reaffirmed Armenia’s view that the conflict had not been settled, and that the basis for any peace settlement must first determine the status of the de facto NKR within self-determined borders. He noted that the principles of the settlement have been determined by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and that Armenia shares the common position of the Co-Chairs’ 13 April statement, that “special attention should be paid to the achievement of a final comprehensive and sustainable settlement on the basis of the elements and principles well-known to the sides”.
Ayvazyan also mentioned that they had discussed humanitarian issues in the de facto NKR, again thanking Russia for its efforts. He highlighted that the main issue facing those on the Armenian side of the disputed region was related to infrastructure, housing, establishing a normal life and healthcare. He said that the two had exchanged views on access to the area for relevant international organisations to help with restorations, highlighting his view that access to the area should not be politicised as it is about the protection of Universal Human Rights, which “should not be conditioned by perceptions of status”.
He also touched on their conversations regarding preservation of cultural heritage and the importance of international involvement to this end. He highlighted that security and development issues had been a central focus of their conversations, acknowledging that opening of transport links and regional communication corridors could “create new opportunities, including diversifying the logistical connection between Armenia and Russia”.
Lavrov will visit Baku on 10-11 May.