The presidents of Russia and Armenia held talks on Tuesday as Moscow appeared to press its ex-Soviet allies to back its controversial decision to recognize Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s de facto independence from Georgia.
Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Serzh Sarkisian met in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi for the first time since the August 8 outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia that escalated into a full-scale Russian-Georgian war. The crisis, which has had far-reaching ramifications for regional security, was high on their agenda.
Opening the meeting, Medvedev said the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance of six former Soviet republics, including Armenia, should formulate a common stance on the issue at its summit in Moscow this week. He noted that Armenia will assume the alliance’s rotating presidency during the meeting.
“I think we could think about how to organize the work [of the summit] and exchange thoughts on this score,” he told Sarkisian in remarks made public by the Kremlin. “Especially considering the fact that we haven’t met since Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia. So let us talk about these difficult problems.”
Sarkisian responded by again regretting the deaths of Russian soldiers and South Ossetians during the fierce fighting. He said Armenia is ready to help Russia “eliminate consequences of the humanitarian disaster” in the breakaway region.
A senior Russian security official, meanwhile, made clear that Moscow expects fellow CSTO member states to endorse its actions on Abkhazia and South Ossetia and even agree to their accession to the defense pact.
“What is happening after the conflict … is certainly driving South Ossetia and Abkhazia into the collective security system,” Nikolay Bordyuzha, the CSTO secretary general, told reporters in Yerevan. “I believe that South Ossetia and Abkhazia can not successfully and steadily develop without [being part of] a collective security system, without the backing of other states.”
Bordyuzha will preside on Wednesday over a meeting in Yerevan of top security officials from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia that will discuss preparations for the Moscow summit.
The two disputed regions’ membership in the CSTO would require their formal recognition by the five other member states. By doing that Armenia would immediately put itself at loggerheads with Georgia, its main transport conduit to the outside world. Observers believe that Armenian recognition of the two self-proclaimed republics is therefore unlikely.
Official Yerevan has declined to explicitly comment on the Russian recognition strongly condemned by the West. But in what could be construed as an indirect endorsement of the move, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said last week that the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the South Caucasus should be resolved “on the basis of a free expression of peoples’ will.”
According to Sarkisian’s press service, the Armenian and Russian presidents agreed on the need for a peaceful settlement of those disputes. In a statement, it cited Medvedev as reaffirming Russian support for the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks jointly mediated by Russia, France and the United States.
The statement said Medvedev and Sarkisian also discussed a “broad range” of economic issues, including Russian-Armenian energy and transport projects.