MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–Russia is Azerbaijan’s friend, neighbor and strategic partner and we will be developing our relations on this basis,” Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Friday during talks with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow that began with a focus on energy relations and ended with a pledge by Russian to “fulfill its mandate” as the region’s arbiter of peace.
Aliyev met with Medvedev in the Kremlin Friday to discuss a deal on natural gas sales which could undermine the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, reported AFP.
The meeting came after Russia and Azerbaijan’s state-run energy companies last month signed a preliminary deal on natural gas sales from 2010, which could remove a potential source of gas for Nabucco.
“In my opinion we have a very high chance of entering a full-blown agreement,” Medvedev told reporters after meeting Aliyev at the Russian leader’s residence outside Moscow.
“For us… diversification of deliveries and the opportunity to enter new markets is of significant interest… because today Azerbaijani gas is transported in the Western direction,” Aliyev said.
He said Russia was a natural partner for Azerbaijan because the countries were neighbors and gas export infrastructure was already in place. “There are no transit countries between our countries. There is no need for additional investment to build a gas pipeline,” Aliyev said.
In discussing their plans for expanding energy ties between the two countries, the two leaders also touted progress in internationally mediated talks on the longstanding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In a joint press conference with his Azeri counterpart, Medvedev said Russia supports the ongoing peace talks between Yerevan and Baku and is eager to register “maximum progress” in a resolution based on “the interests of both nations,” ArmRadio reported.
Moscow in recent months has stepped up its efforts to reconcile Armenia and Azerbaijan in what analysts say is a bid to increase its influence in the Caucasus region.
Medvedev, whose country co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group mediating the conflict, said he thought the regular meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan were “very important.”
“It is this progress that keeps alive our hope that the conflict will be settled rather soon,” Aliyev was quoted by the AFP as saying.
“The positions of the sides recently became closer to a certain degree. Some questions that previously seemed hard to solve have been agreed,” Aliyev said, though he added that the lack of results so far was “disappointing.”
Medvedev, for his part, agreed with Aliyev, noting that there have been some prospects in the peace talks and that he thought “new ideas” to propel the negotiations forward may soon appear.
“Russia is ready to fulfill its mandate,” Medvedev said. “We have always tried to contribute to the process. I’m sure that the problem can be solved on the basis of interests of both nations and new proposals if such contacts continue.”
Last November, Russia hosted rare peace talks between the Armenian and Azeri Presidents. The Russian Kommersant daily reported Friday that Russia had convinced Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to take part in another summit with Azerbaijan’s Aliyev mediated by Medvedev in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg in June.
The newspaper, not citing any sources, said that Russia was offering hefty financial support to Armenia and weapons sales to Azerbaijan as rewards for taking part in the Russian-led peace talks.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Yerevan on Thursday where he met with President Serzh Sarkisian after attending a meeting of foreign ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization.
During their talks, Sarkisian and Lavrov discussed Armenia’s relations with Russia, as well as the Armenian President’s alleged upcoming visit to Russia.