Improvement of Russian - Azerbaijani relations may change Russia's position on regional issues: Armenian expert

By E.Tariverdiyeva

After Moscow demonstrated its desire to improve relations with Baku, Armenia should be more concerned with a more serious shift in Russian policy, Director of Armenian Center for National and International Studies Richard Giragosian believes.

"Improvement and expansion in the Russian-Azerbaijani relations, perhaps, will change Russia's traditional position on regional issues, including even the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," Giragosian wrote Trend News in an e-mail.

The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding districts. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994.

> Nagorno-Karabakh Map
The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France, and the U.S. - are currently holding the peace negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Armenia can be seen as directly linked to two issues. These issues include the protocols on normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey which are under consideration now but stalled, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Moscow.

Jan. 12, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow upon his Russian Counterpart Vladimir Putin's invitation. During his visit, Erdogan will mull further development of the Turkey-Russia relations, particularly energy and economic issues discussed during Putin's Ankara visit held in August 2009, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh settlement during his Armenia visit scheduled for Jan. 13-14. He will meet with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian there, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

"Exchange of views to continue the negotiation process on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in the context of intermediary efforts taken by Russia to solve the conflict will be in the center of attention," Nesterenko said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

According to the expert, the timing of these visits is not just coincidence. They represent Turkish side which is in Russia trying to persuade Moscow to exert new pressure on Yerevan. "This reflects Turkey's desire to achieve some "sign of progress" over the unsolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." he added.

Turkey, which has made a strategic mistake by underestimating the intensity of the negative reaction to the protocols in Azerbaijan, now seeks to offset that damage, he believes.

He said Turkey faces two difficulties. "First, the reason is that Turkish decision to remove any references to the Nagorno-Karabakh from the protocols made its efforts impossible to demand concessions from Armenia at this late stage. Second, Turkey has few real leverages of pressure on Russia. It can propose little to Moscow to induce it to pressure on Yerevan over Karabakh, at least at this stage," he added.

However, in a long-term prospect Turkey will not lose a chance for using its closer relationship with Moscow as a way to exert new pressure on Russia's vulnerable and dependent "ally"-Armenia.

According to him, it is connected with the reality of current Armenian-Russian relations. They are marked by a deeper trend, when Russia has been increasingly arrogant and short-sighted in its treatment of Armenia, despite the fact that Armenia is the only reliable ally for Moscow in the region. Moreover, Russian side has been generally taking Armenian friendship and loyalty "for granted," rather than as an expression of a true strategic partner.

"There is a danger that Moscow will only continue to treat Armenia as a "vassal" state, rather than as a strategic ally," the expert believes.

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