BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
A day after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Vladimir Putin of Russia heaped praise on the ongoing “strong” relations between Yerevan and Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Pashinyan’s statement that “Artsakh is Armenia. Period,” calling it non-conducive for the advancement of the Karabakh conflict resolution process.
Speaking at the Russian think-thank Valdai Forum in Sochi on Wednesday, Lavrov lamented at parties to the Karabakh conflict “making quite serious statements.”
“In particular,” Lavorv said, “there has been a statement to the effect that Karabakh is Armenia, just like Albanian Prime Minister [Edi] Rama said from Tirana than Kosovo is Albania. This certainly does not help to create an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of the political [settlement] process.”
Lavrov was referencing a speech given by Pashinyan at a rally in Stepanakert in August on the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Pan-Armenian Games, where he said, “Artsakh is Armenia. Period,” evidently disturbing Russia’s top diplomat.
When asked about Lavrov’s statement, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan, during a press briefing on Thursday, cited official Baku’s ongoing rants about how the Karabakh conflict must be resolved “exclusively within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.” Naghdalyan insisted that such assertions “do not contribute to the fostering an atmosphere of respect in advancing the peace process.”
“Armenia has and continues to support the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship format, which has provided impartial and unbiased mediation on the conflict and has united the co-chairing countries in their efforts for a peaceful resolution. At the same time we find it important for each of the mediators to avoid random and one-sided assessments,” said Naghdalyan.
“Armenia’s position has been clearly expressed in all of the Armenian prime minister’s speeches, including in the September 24 speech made at the U.N., during which he reiterated the formula proposed by Armenia on achieving peace and compromise. In this regard we consider unacceptable Azerbaijan’s inability to publicly express the kind of solutions for peace, which will be acceptable for the people of Armenia, Artsakh and Azerbaijan,” added Naghdalyan.
The foreign ministry spokesperson also clarified other statement made by Lavrov who said that mechanisms were in place for exchanging prisoners and returning remains of killed soldiers to their respective countries.
“No exchange of remains has taken place, rather Artsakh authorities allowed the retrieval of an Azerbaijani serviceman’s remains as a humanitarian step,” explained Naghdalyan.
We must clearly note that Armenia is not considering an exchange of prisoners kept in the territories of the parties, but is proceeding from positions of addressing every individual case within the framework of humanitarian law,” added Naghdalyan.
Lavrov made the statements a day before Putin met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the same forum in Sochi, where Aliyev told Putin, “For us, Russia is a very important partner, friend and good neighbor. We very much value this relationship.” Neither leader mentioned the Karabakh conflict in public remarks.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Lavrov has used his pulpit to admonish Yerevan. Last year, he inserted himself in Armenia’s domestic affairs when he commented on the criminal proceedings related to the March 1, 2008 case, calling actions taken against indicted suspects politically motivated.
It is commendable that the Armenian Foreign Ministry emphasized the disparity in Lavrov’s statements and essentially fact-checked his remarks about prisoner exchanges. What is curious is if Moscow has such concerns, why then did Putin and Pashinyan praise Yerevan-Moscow relations in their public announcements after a meeting Tuesday in Yerevan on the margins of the Eurasian Economic Union summit?
“Armenia-Russia relations are on a reliable and positive course,” Pashinyan reiterated on Wednesday in a Facbook post, where he also announced that he had a second meeting with Putin at Zvartnots airport on Tuesday that lasted 90 minutes and “will give new impetus to Armenia-Russia relations.”
The Karabakh conflict as a topic of discussion was not mentioned by Putin or Pashinyan in their public statements. One wonders if it was even discussed.