YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have described their country’s relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan as a “strategic partnership” and called for the further expansion of Moscow’s ties with both countries.
The two men used the term in their New Year’s messages to the leaders of the two South Caucasus states, which continue to be locked in stalled negotiations for a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“For our countries, bound together by tight knots of strategic partnership, the outgoing year became an important stage in the steady development of many-sided cooperation, which is based on mutual support on issues touching upon the fundamental interests of the two states,” Medvedev wrote to Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.
Putin likewise expressed satisfaction with “the dynamic development of Russian-Armenian cooperation” in a letter to his Armenian counterpart, Tigran Sargsyan, cited by his office. In a separate note to President Sarkisian, he expressed hope that bilateral ties will reach a “new, higher level” in 2011.
The Russian leaders also sent similar congratulatory messages to their Azerbaijani counterparts. According to the Russian government’s press office, Putin told Azerbaijan’s Prime Minister Artur Rasizade that he believes “strategic partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan will continue to be reinforced.”
Medvedev, for his part, was quoted by the Kremlin as telling President Ilham Aliyev that 2010 “will go down in the history of Russian-Azerbaijani relations as an important stage in the development of interaction on all directions of many-sided cooperation.”
The Russian president visited the two warring nations in the space of two weeks in late August and early September. In Yerevan, Medvedev and Sarkisian presided over the signing of a new defense agreement extending and upgrading Russian military presence in Armenia.
Medvedev assured Aliyev afterwards that the agreement poses no security threat to Azerbaijan. He said the Russian troops stationed in Armenia will only help to maintain “peace and order” in the volatile region.
The visits came as Moscow took center stage in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. Medvedev hosted three more face-to-face meetings between Aliyev and Sarkisian in the course of 2010.
After the most recent Armenian-Azerbaijani summit held in late October, he said the two sides could iron out their remaining differences over the “basic principles” of a peaceful settlement in the coming weeks. However, no such framework accord has been reached yet.
The Russian-Armenian pact was signed following reports that Moscow plans to sell sophisticated S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan. Analysts and opposition politicians in Yerevan expressed serious concerns about the deal, not denied by the Kremlin, saying that it could change the balance of forces in region. Some of them accused the Russians of playing a double game in the region.
Armenian officials dismissed such concerns, with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisting that the S-300s would not give Baku a “strategic advantage” in the unresolved dispute. Some senior members of the ruling Republican Party went so far as to claim that Russia would openly side with Armenia in case of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war.