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Mar. 31, 2005
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Vladimir Putin Tries to Keep Armenia as the Last Ally of Russia
// Friendship of Peoples
World Practice
The official part of a visit of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to Armenia has begun. The formal pretext for the visit was the opening of the Year of Russia in Armenia. In actual fact, the agenda goes beyond the framework of protocol and cultural functions: it will include the Karabakh problem, cooperation in the gas sphere, and the use of Armenian territory for the deployment of Russian military bases which will be withdrawn from Georgia within the next few years.

The President of Russia, together with his Armenian colleague, Robert Kocharyan, will take part in the official opening of the Year of Russia in Armenia and attend a gala concert. The pompous protocol functions serve as a smokescreen for a very important dialogue on the burning issues of the day. Alarmed by a whole series of Rose, Orange and other revolutions, Russia is afraid of losing one of the last of its bulwarks in the area of the former USSR.

In the context of the deepening of their strategic partnership the presidents of the two countries will discuss the problems of resolving the Karabakh conflict, as well as the prospects of deploying the Russian military bases on Armenian territory, which should be withdrawn from Georgia within the next few years.

As regards the first problem, Moscow tries to soften the position of Yerevan in order to avoid the exacerbation of the relations with Baku. The Kremlin hoped to bring the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilkham Aliyev, to negotiations during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Victory in the last war in Moscow in May. However, judging by information coming in from Baku, President Aliyev will hardly come to Moscow for the occasion.

The question of the withdrawal of Russian troops and arms from Georgia has been solved, in the main, as a result of negotiations with the Georgian leadership, although the deadlines have not been fixed. The most probable time will be 2007. After that Russia hopes to deploy its military units on Armenian territory, in the vicinity of the Russian base No 102. Yerevan agrees to it, but puts forward a number of conditions.

The main one is a solution to the problem of the transport blockade of Armenia. This is why both Moscow and Yerevan hope to work out a concerted policy aimed at obtaining Georgia's consent to a free transport corridor by commissioning the Novorossiisk Poti sea ferry, and also resuming the railway connection through the territory of Abkhazia.

Naturally, the questions of military cooperation will also be discussed. Armenia receives arms and ammunition from Russia at preferential prices. To date more than 500 Armenian army officers study in Russia free of charge, that is, at the expense of the Russian budget. This figure can be bigger.

A range of problems to be discussed deal with the relations between Russia, Armenia and Iran. Teheran remains an important regional partner of Moscow, but it views rather cautiously the plans to build a gas pipeline between Iran and Armenia, which will later be one of the channels of supplying Iranian gas to Ukraine and Europe. But the deputy foreign minister of Armenia, Gegam Garibjanyan, has said that Russia should take part in the negotiations on the matter. President Putin will, no doubt, raise the question of Gazprom taking part in the implementation of this project.
Boris Volkhonsky

All the Article in Russian as of Mar. 25, 2005

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