“Russian Week”: President Sargsyan off to Sochi for talks with Medvedev

The recent war in Georgia and its ramifications for the region are expected to be high on the agenda of talks in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi between the presidents of Armenia and Russia on Tuesday.

Serzh Sargsyan and Dmitry Medvedev are meeting for the first time since the recent escalation of tensions and an ensuing war in Georgia that involved its two breakaway provinces and regional powerhouse Russia.

Russia moved its forces into the territory of South Ossetia and further deep into the territory of Georgia proper responding to Tbilisi’s military aggression against its tiny breakaway region early last month. Five-day hostilities that also involved the other Russian-backed separatist region of Georgia, Abkhazia, ended in Russia’s control of vast swathes of Georgian territory and strategic military infrastructure to force the Saakashvili government to sign a French-brokered peace deal.

Yerevan had been emphatically neutral throughout the active military phase of the conflict in the territory of its northern neighbor, which, according to official statements, is a transit territory for up to 70 percent of landlocked Armenia’s foreign trade. On the other hand, Armenia depends on Russia for energy and defense and hosts the latter’s military base on its soil.

Sargsyan’s press office said in a brief statement late last week that the Armenian president will be in Sochi on a working visit (and official Kremlin sources confirmed that the visit is held upon Medvedev’s invitation). It said that the parties will discuss “the future development of the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership, and will dwell on issues of Armenia’s forthcoming presidency of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).” “The interlocutors will also discuss regional and international issues,” it added vaguely.

The two presidents had a phone conversation a week after the start of hostilities in Georgia and agreed then “to hold additional consultations on further developments, if necessary.”

Since then Armenia has kept low profile in its foreign diplomacy and has not yet formulated its stance on the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose independence was recognized by Moscow late last month.

In official remarks responding to media questions regarding Armenia’s position on the Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan gave the following answer: “Armenia has always favored and continues to believe that any attempt for military solution to conflicts is futile. Such conflicts should be resolved on the basis of free expression of the will of the people.”

In contrast, Nagorno-Karabakh’s President Bako Sahakyan sent messages to his South Ossetian and Abkhazian counterparts hailing the recognition of their independence by Russia.

Meanwhile, the CSTO, a Russian-led military alliance of seven ex-Soviet states that besides Russia and Armenia also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, will meet in Moscow Friday. The CSTO Council is expected to discuss the situation around South Ossetia and Abkhazia among other developments related to the crisis in Georgia.

Remarkably, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka last week called for a “consolidated position of the CSTO on South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”