New Level: Leaders of Armenia and Russia strengthen spheres of cooperation during state visits

New Level: Leaders of Armenia and Russia strengthen spheres of cooperation during state visits

Photo: www.president.am

Despite the fact that diplomatic relations between Yerevan and Moscow were established in 1992 and were immediately defined as “strategic”, it took twenty years for the “time to come” for state, rather than official, visits. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan paid his first state visit to Russia October 23-25.

During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and Levon Ter-Petrosyan, in their respective countries, the first important military-strategic agreements were signed, and it was then that the decision was made on the status of Russian frontier troops deployed in Armenia and that of the Russian military base N 102 functioning in Gyumri. During Vladimir Putin's and Robert Kocharyan's term in the office, more than 160 interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental agreements were signed.

Nonetheless it is during the tenure of both countries' third presidents – Dmitry Medvedev and Serzh Sargsyan – that the time for state visits came. The Armenian president put a special emphasis on this very circumstance during the joint press-conference with Medvedev in Moscow.

“This is the first state visit in the history of relations between our countries. It means that we have crossed the threshold of good-neighborly relations and are now building our relations in the spirit of strategic partnership, ally relations,” he said.

Does this statement mean that all former developments in the Armenian-Russian relations had been purely “good-neighborly” but not “strategic”? Or, it is after all, just a unique form of PR?

In any case state visits have happened only since August last year when the Russian president paid his first state visit to Armenia, and now Serzh Sargsyan made a similar visit to Russia.

In this connection the Armenian president said in Moscow: “Both of our state visits made within a little more than a year, demonstrate the positive charge that's characteristic of only congenial countries that build their relations in the spirit of true allies.”

The military-strategic component of the bilateral relations was more obvious during the “Yerevan part” of the state visits. It was during Medvedev’s visit in August of 2010 that the protocol on the extension of Russian military base’s deployment term in Armenia (till 2046) was signed.

The Moscow part was more about potential economic and cultural cooperation. And, despite Sargsyan’s statement that “57 percent of all foreign investments in Armenia in 2011 has been from Russia”, the sides have reached an understanding of the importance of raising the bar of economic cooperation to the level of the military-strategic one. It is, first of all, about energy projects.

In this connection the Russian president stated: “Russian companies provide steady gas supply to Armenia, they are very active in the electric energy sphere. The fifth block of Hrazdan Thermal Power Plant will soon be put to operation, and I think that will become another large-scale event in terms of our investment cooperation.”

Medvedev specifically stressed the nuclear field of cooperation: “It is an important direction, that requires major investment. We are discussing that project and, I hope, will arrive at the most optimal outline for developing cooperation in the atomic energy field.”

The Russian president's statement echoed another statement made at the same time by Nokolay Spassky, Deputy Director General of Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, who said that: “Russia is interested in the construction of the new power-generating block of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant.” According to him, Russia is considering that project “as a priority and is ready to take part in the construction of the new nuclear power unit”.

It is a highly important statement as, after the Van earthquake Turkish and Azeri mass media once again raised politicized clamor over the integrity of a nuclear power plant operating in a seismically dangerous region. Some news outlets released information that Russia might withdraw from the project.

Metsamor NPP's exploitation term expires in 2016. By then, according to the Armenian-Russian agreement, a new energy block will be completed to replace the current one.

Hence, the Armenian president’s first state visit was meant to finalize the projects amassed over the previous years and affirm the irreversibility of the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership, whether “state” or “official”.