Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

Tensions Mount Between Armenia, Belarus

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A diplomatic row between Armenia and Belarus intensified over the weekend after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan condemned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for questioning Yerevan’s role in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) at a meeting with an Azerbaijani official.

Pashinyan also hit out at Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has openly backed Lukashenko’s efforts to install a new, Belarusian secretary general of the Russian-led defense alliance.

The previous CSTO head, Yuri Khachaturov of Armenia, was forced to resign earlier this month after being controversially charged by Armenian law-enforcement authorities in connection with a 2008 crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan.

Khachaturov was appointed as secretary general in 2017 after Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan agreed that their representatives will take turns to run the CSTO. His three-year tenure was due to expire in 2020.

The Armenian government is seeking to install another Armenian secretary general who would serve until 2020. Lukashenko and Nazarbayev objected to that, however, at a November 8 summit of the CSTO held in the Kazakh capital Astana. They demanded that a representative of Belarus be named as new head of the CSTO.

The CSTO leaders said they will again try to reach consensus on the issue at another summit slated for December 6.

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Lukashenko made a point of publicly reaffirming his position at a November 12 meeting with a senior diplomat from Azerbaijan, Armenia’s arch-foe which is not a member of the CSTO.

Lukashenko’s comments raised eyebrows in Yerevan. Local politicians and commentators believe he deliberately made them at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Minsk in order to add insult to injury.

“It would be the same situation if I invited the ambassador of a foreign country not affiliated with the CSTO and brief them on a [CSTO] meeting held in closed session,” Pashinyan told reporters late on Friday, November 16.

“If the meeting is held behind the closed doors it means that it’s a confidential discussion among allies. And I’m surprised that a person who has been head of state for 30 or I don’t know how many years can do such a thing,” he said.

“I will certainly demand explanations from the president of Belarus and not only Belarus,” he added, referring to Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev.

Official Minsk scoffed at the criticism on November 17. A spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Pashinyan seems to regard himself as an “international prosecutor empowered to punish and pardon” foreign leaders.

Topics: Belarus, CSTO

“Apparently Mr. Pashinyan has not yet realized that the rules of so-called street politics are not acceptable in international politics,” the spokesman said in a scathing reference to the fact that the Armenian premier came to power in May in a wave of street protests organized by him.

Pashinyan also said that he discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call earlier on November 16.

At the Astana summit, Putin reportedly proposed a compromise solution that would see the CSTO’s acting secretary general, Russia’s Valery Semerikov, retain his position until 2020.

Moscow reacted angrily when the Armenian authorities moved to arrest Khachaturov as well as former President Robert Kocharian in July. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the criminal proceedings as politically motivated. And a Kremlin official said the criminal case against the then CSTO secretary general has dealt a “colossal blow to the image of the whole organization.”

Lukashenko already sparked a bitter diplomatic row with Yerevan in early 2017 after ordering his law-enforcement agencies to arrest and hand over to Azerbaijan a Russian-Israeli blogger who had repeatedly visited Nagorno-Karabakh without Azerbaijan’s permission.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the move and implicitly branded Belarus a “dictatorship.” Senior Armenian lawmakers launched even more scathing attacks on Lukashenko at the time.

The autocratic Belarusian leader, in power since 1994, makes no his secret of his warm rapport with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The latter began an official visit to Minsk on Monday.

Belarus has been a major supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. Those include Belarusian-made Polonez missiles that have a firing range of 200 kilometers. The Azerbaijani military apparently acquired them early this year.

 

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