Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov meet in Yerevan, June 9, 2022.

Russia Backs Armenian Control Over Transit Routes For Azerbaijan

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By Sargis Harutyunyan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia will control a road and a railway that will connect Azerbaijan with its Nakhichevan exclave through an Armenian region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Yerevan on Thursday, June 9.

Lavrov revealed at the same time that the Armenian government has agreed to simplify border crossing procedures for Azerbaijani cargo and travelers that will use the planned transit routes.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are to reopen their border to commercial and passenger traffic under the terms of a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped their six-week war for Nagorno Karabakh in November 2020.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly claimed that the deal calls for a permanent land corridor for Nakhichevan passing through Armenia Syunik province that also borders Iran. Aliyev said in December that passage through the corridor must be exempt from Armenian border controls. Yerevan rejected his demands.

The disagreements effectively suspended the work of a Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani commission dealing with practical modalities of the transport links.

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The commission met in Moscow late last week for the first time in five months. The Russian government said its Armenian and Azerbaijani members “brought closer their positions on border issues, customs and other types of control.”

Speaking after talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Lavrov said that Baku, Moscow and Yerevan are now finalizing a deal on a “simplified” border control regime for the road to Nakhichevan.

“It will be simplified but it will be precisely based on the recognition of the sovereignty of Armenian territory,” Lavrov told a joint news conference with Mirzoyan. “There can be no ambiguities here.”

“We have a sense that our Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues proceed from this,” he said.

Lavrov did not specify whether people and cargo using the Syunik roads will be checked by Armenian customs and immigration officers. It is also unclear if the same simplified regime will be put in place for the transit of Armenian goods through Azerbaijan.

Mirzoyan stressed that “all roads that will be opened or reopened will remain under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the country through which they pass.” He said Baku and Yerevan have yet to work out “many details” of the transport links.

“But discussions are continuing and I think that we will have mutually acceptable solutions,” added the Armenian minister.

Neighboring Iran has repeatedly voiced support for full Armenian control over all roads passing through Armenia. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reaffirmed Tehran’s stance in a June 1 phone call with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The issue was high on the agenda of Pashinyan’s last meeting with Aliyev held in Brussels on May 22.

Armenia Backs Alliance With Russia

Armenia on Friday expressed readiness to help strengthen the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) while again chiding other members of the Russian-led military alliance for not openly supporting Yerevan in its border dispute with Azerbaijan.

The Armenian government appealed to the CSTO for help shortly after Azerbaijani troops reportedly crossed several sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and advanced a few kilometers into Armenian territory in May 2021. It asked the alliance of six ex-Soviet states to invoke Article 2 of its founding treaty which requires a collective response to grave security threats facing one of them.

Russia and other CSTO member states expressed concern over the border tensions but did not issue joint statements in support of Armenia. Armenian leaders have repeatedly criticized that stance.

Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan reiterated the criticism after hosting a meeting in Yerevan with the fellow top diplomats of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“While the organization responded in a timely manner to the events in Kazakhstan in January the issue still remains open in connection with the invasion of Azerbaijani troops into the sovereign territory of Armenia, which began in May 2021,” he told the press.

Mirzoyan made clear at the same time that Yerevan is intent on “stepping up cooperation between member states” of the bloc. That includes ensuring a closer coordination of their foreign policies and “enhancing the CSTO’s role in the international arena,” he said.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the CSTO foreign ministers did not explicitly mention Russia’s war with Ukraine. They voiced concern at the “continuing degradation of the system of international security.” They said all countries must respect “the principle of equal and indivisible security.”

From Moscow’s perspective, “indivisible security” means that NATO must pledge not to admit Ukraine and to scale back its military presence near Russian borders. The US and its NATO allies rejected these demands in the run-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24.

Belarus is the only non-Russian CSTO country to have publicly backed the invasion. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chided the other member states for their more cautious stance when he spoke at a CSTO summit in Moscow last month.

 

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