By Armen Zakarian
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders in Yerevan Thursday on an official visit which focused on bilateral relations and the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The talks were also aimed at preparing for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Armenia, his country’s main regional ally.
“We expect a very busy year for our partnership and allied relationship,” Lavrov said at the end of the one-day trip. “We have to implement agreements reached by the [Russian-Armenian] inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation last December. We agreed to accelerate implementation of all issues agreed by the parties so that our presidents can see … that their decisions are put into practice.”
“There are no problems in our relations. But because those relations are constantly developing they need constant attention,” he added.
“We are happy with the results of the visit. I believe that it will give an additional impetus to our relations,” Oskanian said for his part.
Kocharian was quoted by his press office as telling Lavrov that he is satisfied with the current state of bilateral ties and hopes that Russia will help to lift transport blockades resulting from the unresolved ethnic conflicts in the South Caucasus.
The most intractable of those conflicts was a major theme of the talks. “We hope that the so-called Prague process of regular meetings between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will bear fruit,” Lavrov said. “The co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group are ready to foster that. We will do our best to make sure that the process progresses successfully.”
“Sergei Lavrov is a minister who probably knows more [about the Karabakh peace process] than I,” Oskanian joked at their joint news conference, underlining Moscow’s role as a key international mediator. He announced that his next meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Prague will take place on March 2.
Economic issues were another subject of discussions, with Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian again calling on the Russians to speed up work on reactivating four of five moribund Armenian enterprises which were handed over to them two years ago in payment for Armenia’s $100 million debt. Markarian also expressed concern at Russia’s plans to finance a new railway to Iran that would bypass Armenia and run through its arch-rival Azerbaijan
Lavrov, who revealed to reporters last year that his father was a Tbilisi-born Armenian, assured Markarian that “Russia will take into account Armenia’s interests and will not take any steps that would damage them,” according to an Armenian government statement.