Aksyonov Controversy: Official Yerevan tightlipped on Crimean leader’s possible visit

Authorities in Yerevan have not officially commented on reports suggesting that the pro-Russian leader of the breakaway Ukrainian region of Crimea blacklisted by the West is due to visit Yerevan later this year.

An upcoming forum in Yerevan will bring together the heads of various regions of Russia and Armenia with a view to boosting mutual economic and cultural ties between the two countries also at regional levels. Sergey Aksyonov, the head of Crimea, is expected to be among those Russian regional governors attending the forum. At least, this is what the Russian president’s aide Georgy Muradov announced earlier this week.

“We have agreed that you will take part in the forum to be held in Armenia,” Russia’s RIA Novosti quoted Muradov as telling Aksyonov at a meeting of the regional administration that was installed in Crimea by Moscow following the peninsula’s effective annexation in 2014.

The international community has condemned the Crimean referendum on separating from Ukraine and joining Russia and does not recognize the legitimacy of the decision. The West has imposed sanctions against the separatist leaders of Crimea, including Aksyonov, barring them from traveling to European Union member states, the United States and some other Western nations.

According to some analysts in Yerevan, the trip of Aksyonov that was announced by the Russian side shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan for talks near Moscow, would put Armenia in an awkward, if not dangerous situation and could even amount to the South Caucasus nation’s effectively recognizing the current status of Crimea.

(Armenia also effectively refused to condemn Crimea’s annexation when it voted against a United Nation resolution upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity in March 2014. Back then Ukraine temporarily recalled its ambassador from Yerevan in protest).

But an Armenian Foreign Ministry source told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday that the Armenian government has not invited Aksyonov to take part in the Yerevan forum. The source, who spoke to the radio station on condition of anonymity, said the forum will be organized for representatives of Russian and Armenian regions that have signed cooperation agreements with each other, while Crimea has “no such format of cooperation” with Armenian regions.