Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Moscow, June 7, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had good, constructive and trust-based talks in the spirit typical of relations between our two countries as two allies and typical of our strategic partnership.
We pointed to the dynamism of the political dialogue between Russia and Armenia, including at the top and high levels. President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reached important agreements during their meeting in Sochi on May 14. Contacts between the parliaments of the two countries are being stepped up. Two days ago, President of the Armenian National Assembly Ara Babloyan was in Moscow on a working visit and took part in the International Forum on Parliamentarianism.
Of course, we have discussed our trade and economic cooperation. Russia remains Armenia’s key trading partner. Last year, trade between our two countries was up 30 percent and the growth continued into this year, almost hitting 40 percent over the first three months of the year. We agree that such high figures have been secured by the advantages offered by our countries’ membership of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), among other things.
Russia’s accumulated investment in Armenia accounts for some 35 percent of all foreign investment in the country, while Russian investors have stakes in 2,200 enterprises, or a third of all joint ventures in Armenia. We have reviewed progress in carrying out major joint projects in the energy, telecommunications and banking sectors.
We share the view that the further strengthening of our practical cooperation requires tireless efforts of the inter-governmental commissions on economic, military and technical cooperation.
We have positively appraised the dynamic development of inter-regional ties, which embrace some 70 regions of the Russian Federation and almost all administrative areas in Armenia. A regular seventh inter-regional forum is scheduled for this summer. The 2016-2021 Programme of Cooperation Between Regions of our countries is being successfully implemented.
We are promoting cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian areas, which is very important and beneficial. In December last year, a branch of the Russian Science and Cultural Centre was opened in Gyumri. About 5,500 Armenian students are receiving education in Russia, including 1,500 students at the expense of the federal budget. In Armenia, in addition to the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, there are eight branches of Russian universities offering tuition to a total of about 3,500 students.
We are closely cooperating and coordinating our moves in the international arena. Today, we took stock of the practical tasks that have been set in this context before our representatives in the CIS, the EAEU and the CSTO, as well as at the UN, OSCE and other multilateral organisations. We focused on the coordination of our efforts at the BSEC MFA [Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs at the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation] that will hold its regular meeting in Yerevan in late June.
Of course, we talked about what has to be done to ensure security and stability in the South Caucasus, including the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process. Russia in the context of bilateral relations with Yerevan and Baku and also in its role as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group will, jointly with its American and French colleagues, continue to assist the two parties in seeking mutually acceptable solutions.
I would like to express my satisfaction with the outcome of the negotiations, which, no doubt, will contribute to the further development of relations between Russia and Armenia as two allies.
Question: Relations between Russia and Armenia are officially at the high level – you have described them as fraternal, friendly and strategic. Nonetheless, recent statements by various experts appearing on Russian federal television channels look conspicuous against this backdrop as they speak accusingly of the processes taking place in Armenia, insisting that the country’s official authorities have pro-Western sentiments and are advised by anti-Russian forces. Do such accusatory conclusions lie on the conscious of those experts who voice them, or are they shared by the Russian authorities?
Sergey Lavrov: It is definitely important to listen to experts and understand what ideas they have after analysing political events in the country or abroad, be it in Russia or any other country. We as representatives of the Russian ministry that addresses foreign policy affairs take guidance in our relations with our allies and strategic partners, in this case Armenia, from the position that was officially formulated by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan after he officially assumed office and the position which Zohrab Mnatsakanyan has officially reaffirmed just now in his role as Armenian Foreign Minister, despite the analysis that experts on all sides are providing to us.
I would like to assure you that the conversation we had earlier today on the floor below was based on precisely this type of attitude to one another – that of allies and strategic partners.
Question: What is the outlook for the development of relations between Russia and Armenia that span many centuries, and is the potential based on these relations being tapped in full today?
Sergey Lavrov: We already mentioned the sustainable positive dynamics of these relations in all areas. There is strong growth in trade, which, incidentally, can be largely ascribed to an increase in the supplies of Armenian farming produce to Russia and solid investment.
We spoke about close ties between regions, as well as military and military-technical cooperation and humanitarian ties. If you ask me what criterion is the most important to me, I would say it is how Russians living in Armenia and Armenians living in Russia feel. We always ask our compatriots living in Armenia how they fare generally, and we hear that it is a comfortable and free life for them there. Members of the Armenian diaspora in Russia, we know, have the same sentiments. We regularly meet with members of various communities, including Armenians, Azerbaijanis and many others. They do not have any problems, feeling in Russia if not at home then like living in a country that is very close to them, to the extent that they all but perceive themselves as being its citizens.
Question: Recently Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made high-profile statements about the need to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back to the negotiating table as part of the process to settle this issue. This is what the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group spoke about many times, in particular Igor Popov, who insisted that at a certain stage Nagorno-Karabakh had to be brought back into the negotiations process. What is Russia’s current position on this issue and is this a certain stage at which Nagorno-Karabakh will be involved again in the negotiations likely to occur any time soon?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia’s position has remained unchanged. Our position has always been that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has to be settled through the OSCE Minsk Group, the participants in which include Armenia, along with Azerbaijan and other countries. We believe that this is the best format and in our role as one of the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group, along with France and the United States, we have been pursuing the common uncontroversial policy towards creating conditions that will allow Baku and Yerevan to reach an agreement, in which all of us are interested. This work has been going on for many years, passing through various stages, at some of which, incidentally, the heads of Nagorno-Karabakh were involved in the process. Later, the parties agreed to change the format and now we have what we have.
By the way, Igor Popov has never said that “they must be brought back,” so please try to be scrupulous about what you say. Or else we will stop smiling. If at a certain stage the parties agree that Nagorno-Karabakh should be represented at the talks again, it will be their decision and we will respect it.