PRESIDENT OF ARMENIA SERZH SARGSYAN: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
This visit by the President of the Russian Federation has just ended. As you know, Mr Medvedev and I are in constant contact and never lose an opportunity to discuss current matters in our bilateral relations and important regional and international security issues.
We have had around 30 bilateral and multilateral meetings since 2008. But today’s meeting is special because it took place as part of the first ever state visit by a president of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Armenia. It has been a great honour for my wife and I to receive Mr and Ms Medvedev here in Yerevan, for they are good friends not only of our family but of our entire country and people.
We had a very large and substantial agenda for our talks. I will start with the most important thing. We confirmed once again at the very highest level our mutual commitment to continue building and strengthening the cooperation between our two countries. This is in our countries’ strategic interests and the interests of greater security and stability throughout this region. Our relations are those of strategic allies, and this reflects our peoples’ feelings and meets the demands of Armenia’s and — I hope – Russia’s real national interests.
Five agreements were signed today following our talks. I particularly want to note the agreement on building new power units at our nuclear power plant, and the protocol that amends the terms of the agreement we have with Russia on the Russian military base on our soil. This protocol not only extends the timeframe for Russia’s use of this base, but also expands the scope of its geographic and strategic responsibilities. Previously, the base’s operation was limited by the former Soviet Union’s external borders, but this restriction has now been removed from the text of the agreement. Russia has taken on responsibility for jointly guaranteeing Armenia’s security and helping to equip our armed forces with modern arms.
During this meeting we also shared our views and exchanged opinions on how to develop our trade and economic relations. Despite the fact that we are not yet completely over the global financial and economic crisis, compared to last year’s results, our bilateral trade increased by more than 20 percent over the first half of this year. This shows that we are on the right track and can carry out mutually advantageous business projects together even in today’s conditions.
Russia is the main foreign investor in the Armenian economy, accounting for more than 60 percent of all foreign investment. Last year alone, Russia invested $500 million in strategic sectors of our economy, in the energy sector, transport, and telecommunications. We are expecting a very solid investment package in the near future too. This includes the joint project to build a new unit at the Armenian nuclear power plant, and build new transport infrastructure, which has great importance for our entire region.
We also discussed the international situation and spoke about the main problems in the Trans-Caucasus region today. We affirmed our readiness to continue building up our cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Commonwealth of Independent States and also in the Eurasian Economic Community, in which Armenia has observer status. Of course, we will also keep working together in the UN, OSCE, and other international and regional organisations.
We spoke about conflicts. Armenia’s position remains unchanged on this issue. Our position is that crises and conflicts must be resolved exclusively through peaceful means, without the use of force and without threat of force, in strict compliance with international law and within the formats that exist and that have been used in practice over recent times.
I am grateful to President Medvedev for understanding the importance of the balance of power in the region as a crucial factor in preventing provocations and discouraging militarist ambitions. This in full measure corresponds to our position on the Nagorno Karabakh settlement issue. During today’s meeting, I once again thanked Russia and Mr Medvedev personally for the substantial contribution he has made and positive role he is playing in working towards a settlement of this conflict. It is thanks to your efforts, Mr President, that several important trilateral meetings have taken place between the Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani leaders. I can say once again now that we are ready to work towards a constructive settlement based on the proposals you made at the trilateral meeting in St Petersburg.
We also discussed possibilities for further developing our inter-regional ties and the humanitarian component of our cooperation. In this respect it is significant that we will attend the opening of the Hill of Honour memorial at Gyumri today, which eternises the memory of the Armenian-Russian brotherhood of arms. This is a big and symbolic event that reflects the depth of the friendship between our two countries. It is very pleasing too, to see that this project was carried out with the support of the regional authorities of Ulyanovsk Region and Shirak Region. This is a successful example of cooperation between our regions.
I am sure that this state visit by the President of the Russian Federation will give new impetus to developing the strategic partnership between our countries, and will strengthen our cooperation as allies. As always, our meeting took place in an atmosphere of trust and we had a substantive and open dialogue.
Thank you for your attention. It is my pleasure now to give the floor to President of the Russian Federation Mr Medvedev.
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
This is indeed the first state visit by a president of Russia to Armenia. I want to start by thanking sincerely my friend and colleague Mr Sargsyan for the warm welcome, the warm but not stifling weather, and for the hospitality that we always enjoy on Armenian soil.
We have already met quite a few times this year, more than eight times, I think. Mr Sargsyan counted the total number of meetings we have had – more than thirty to date, I think. This frequency of our contacts reflects the relations we have as allies and partners, and the friendly and warm relations between our countries’ leaders. Most important of all, these regular contacts help us to resolve all manner of issues that come up.
I agree fully with Mr President that today’s talks have once again confirmed our mutual commitment to strengthening our partnership and developing our relations in all areas: in security, the economy, and in humanitarian cooperation. We also noted that after falling by around 20 percent last year, our bilateral trade has picked up again and has even increased a little. Overall, this is a sign of two things: it shows that our economies are recovering from the crisis, despite the fact that this summer has brought us new trials, above all in the agriculture sector, and it indicates that we have the potential for successful and sustainable growth.
Capital investment is also on the increase, and this is reciprocal capital investment. Russia is one of the biggest foreign investors in Armenia’s economy, and our companies are present in practically all sectors of Armenian economic life. They are working in the energy sector, in banking, construction, communications and telecommunications. Most important of all is that this work not only guarantees that Armenia has reliable supplies of various energy resources, but that they work profitably too. Armenian industry, agriculture and social facilities all have stable energy supplies today. The President and I discussed today how to further develop this cooperation.
During our talks in expanded format one of the main subjects of discussion was how to diversify our trade and investment cooperation. This really is a very important issue, above all for guaranteeing Armenia’s sustainable economic growth. We agree with this and we want to work together in new areas such as joint innovation projects in science-intensive sectors, and in other sectors too. In turn, we also invite Armenian entrepreneurs, who have always been very pragmatic and possess excellent business skills, to take part in projects and programmes in Russia too. We also have possibilities for carrying out projects together in other countries, in neighbouring markets, and this is also an important direction for cooperation.
Another subject of great importance, as Mr President mentioned, is transport. We are talking here about railways and also about developing sea transport routes. I hope that this will help to invigorate our business and cultural ties and increase peoples’ mobility.
As was said just before, we witnessed the signing of important agreements. This makes a big contribution towards strengthening our alliance. I want to note in this respect two agreements that Mr President mentioned. One is the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in building new power units at the Armenian nuclear power plant. This is indeed a new page in the history of our nuclear energy cooperation, and it is an important area for our work together. And then there are our contacts in the security area. We play an active part in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. An informal CSTO summit is coming up now. With respect to security, Protocol 5 is very important in its extension of the term of the interstate agreement on the Russian military base in Armenia, the purpose of which is to help maintain peace and security in the southern Caucasus in general.
Regarding our humanitarian ties, we will try to develop them in all different areas. During our friendly dinner yesterday, we noted these ties and noted too our many Armenian friends who are doing much to build and strengthen these ties. We want to continue these contacts in all areas, not just in culture in the narrow sense, but also in education, all the more so as we have a traditional practice now of making Russian government scholarships available for Armenian students, and we think that this should continue. We will offer 290 such scholarships for the 2010–2011 academic year. This is just the state-sponsored side of things. We have other projects underway too, for example, the branches of Russian universities that have started work. Our cooperation in this area is exceptionally important.
As is usual at our talks, we had quite a detailed discussion of international issues. Of course we looked at the Nagorno Karabakh problem. Thank you, Mr President, for your assessment of the role Russia is playing. I want to assure you that we are ready to continue playing our part as intermediary and help this process, look for a political solution based on the mutually acceptable agreements that have come out of our common efforts through the OSCE’s Minsk Group and the bilateral contacts with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Once more, I thank my colleague, Mr Sargsyan, for these friendly talks and for the trusting dialogue that binds us, for the good personal contacts we have and for the hospitality that my wife and I have received here. I am sure that this visit will be another successful example of our efforts to develop the warm-hearted partnership between our two countries.
Question: A question for the President of Russia. Mr President, you just participated in the signing of an agreement under which Russia will participate in building new power units at an Armenian nuclear power plant. But as your colleague Mr Sargsyan noted, another very solid investment package is being prepared and Russian business is involved. Could you tell us more about what kind of projects these are, how far along they are, and when can we expect them to be signed?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: You know, we are not only preparing projects, we are already implementing them – it's not just plans, it's real life too. I said in my opening remarks that the Russian Federation is the largest investor in the Republic of Armenia's economy. We believe that these investments are mutually beneficial and help resolve economic problems. Indeed, a document on constructing new power units at a nuclear power plant was just signed. This is a traditional sphere of cooperation for Russia. In general, we are an active player in this market. Of course we are willing to work here, in the country of our friends; I am referring to the prospects for actually making use of our capabilities and the general prospects of nuclear power industry development in the world. In current circumstances this is perhaps more important than ever.
Yet our cooperation is not confined to energy. We have a whole range of projects that are either being implemented or about to start. I believe that transport is a very important element of our cooperation. In 2008, a subsidiary company of Russian Railways [South Caucasus Railways] started managing Armenian Railways under a concession agreement. We now need to bring all the agreements we have to their logical conclusion, especially given the fact that transport infrastructure and communications are particularly important for Armenia. We are ready to use all our capacities and make all necessary efforts to help our Armenian partners.
Incidentally, in this context I would like to note the potential for tripartite projects. We talked repeatedly with Mr Sargsyan about this. Not everything depends on Armenia and Russia – a lot depends on our neighbours. But in general we are all pragmatic; we do not merely want to be friends and guarantee each other's security – we also want to earn money. This is never superfluous, even among friends. So we are also ready for tripartite projects, including in the field of gas transportation infrastructure and in transport generally. Let's see what happens.
There are a number of proposals on how to create new capacities and production opportunities in Armenian territory, and a number of our financial institutions are currently working on this. VTB Bank is preparing agreements and reviewing several projects that could be implemented using current opportunities in Armenia. I think this is also important and a good area for future cooperation.
I would like to recall that some time ago, during the financial crisis, we created the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) anti-crisis fund. Strictly speaking, this fund should not only help our nations overcome the crisis (I'll recall that Russia was the major donor and contributed $7,5 billion) but also help develop the economy and social sector of all EurAsEC members. Armenia is an active participant and is currently preparing a range of proposals and feasibility studies of projects that could potentially be implemented within the framework of this intergovernmental cooperation. I hope that at least some of them will be implemented and benefit our Armenian friends.
Question: A question for the President of Russia. Mr President, in the tragic days of August 2008 Russia justified its actions by the existential threat facing the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What would Russia do if the existence of the people of Nagorno Karabakh were in danger, especially given Azerbaijan's militaristic statements and increasing provocations along the line of contact?
Dmitry Medvedev: I already said in my opening remarks that I am not ashamed of the mediating work that Russia and I personally am doing with our partners. This work with both Armenia and Azerbaijan will continue, despite difficulties that arise and sometimes excessively emotional statements. Because I believe that it is very important for Russia that there be peace in the region – very important! Indeed, we lived through difficult events in 2008 and we would like to ensure that such events are never repeated in the Caucasus, in Transcaucasia. There were other well-known developments in the 1990s, very heavy ones.
In light of this I think that the task of the Russian Federation – the largest country in the region, the most powerful economy with the best defensive capabilities and opportunities to ensure security – is to maintain peace and order. But naturally we also have alliance commitments along with other Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) members. The Republic of Armenia is a member of this organisation and our actions are based on the founding treaty that lists all the obligations of the parties and all options available to CSTO countries. Russia takes its commitments within this alliance very seriously.
Question: My question is to the Russian president. Armenia helped extinguish the fires that occurred in large swathes of the Russian Federation this summer. Today you cancelled the state of emergency in the Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow regions, and in the Republic of Mordovia. How would you currently assess the situation in Russia? Could Russia cope without the help of other countries?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia is already coping with this situation. On the whole I think that things have basically returned to normal. That's why I signed the decision, an executive order to amend the one previously adopted, cancelling the state of emergency in a number of regions. Now the emergency status is being maintained only in one region [Ryazan Region], and in general this is for monitoring purposes.
We dealt with this very difficult problem caused by unprecedented weather conditions. It is my duty to thank everyone who helped us. Here in the Republic of Armenia, I would like to sincerely thank our Armenian friends. Speaking yesterday in this very room at an official dinner, I said that there is no situation that even a large and powerful country such as Russia can cope with alone. The fact that the President of Armenia called me and specifically offered Armenia's capabilities, and the fact that these capabilities were used to extinguish a whole number of fires, including quite dangerous ones near so-called strategic facilities, bears witness to the level of our cooperation; our relations really are strategic, allied ones. I would like to once again express my gratitude to the President of Armenia and all the rescue staff and firefighters who took part in saving our facilities.
But I would like to say that on the whole the situation is under control and almost back to normal; I am sure that it soon will be fully normalized. And of course we will have to draw the most serious conclusions in light of all that has happened.
Question: A question for the Russian President. Mr President, you talked about Russia's efforts as mediator. I would like to ask: what does Russia, one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, think of various attempts and proposals to expand the chairmanship of the Minsk Group? And what do you think of Azerbaijan's initiatives to remove this issue [Nagorno Karabakh] from the remit of the Minsk Group and discuss it in other international organisations, such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UN General Assembly and others?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, in recent times I really have paid a lot of attention to this issue. I have my own position – not just as president but also as a person who is closely monitoring developments.
A few points. First, the result is what's important, not the institutions that are used to achieve this result.
Second, the mediatory institutions that are used or proposed must be mutually acceptable, including for the parties involved in difficult negotiations. It is impossible to impose a mediator if the parties do not wish it or if there is some reason to doubt their impartiality. And finally, if the parties agree to involve other participants, including within the framework of the Minsk Group or some other institutions, we would naturally take this as a given. The main thing is that this work be effective.
To speak simply and frankly, up until now it is only the Minsk Group that meets all these criteria. All other potential participants in these negotiations are removed from the topic at hand, not always immersed in its details, and it is difficult to use their capacities as mediators.
So I would think it is correct to make the efficiency of work conducted the most important criteria and, in my opinion, this is possible within the framework of the Minsk Group and the mediation efforts of the Russian Federation.
Mr Sargsyan, you have not yet said anything. What do you think about this?
President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan: You spoke about our economic relations so well and in such detailed fashion that I have nothing to add.
And as for increasing the number of mediators, we have categorically and unequivocally stated for many years that the current composition of the Minsk Group is the most acceptable for us. But since I've probably commented on this a hundred times, I think that everyone knows the Armenian position. We believe that we can achieve concrete results only within the Minsk Group.
In addition, I would like to say that there is no peace in the region, but there is no war either. It is bad that there is no peace, but at the same time it's good that there's no war.
Dmitry Medvedev: That's true.
Serzh Sargsyan: And I believe that this is the greatest merit of the Minsk Group. Therefore we agree.
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Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to emphasize once again our strategic partnership and humanitarian cooperation. Indeed, this is very important, as are the forums where it takes place. I am therefore particularly pleased to have the opportunity to note joint projects such as the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University. Despite its recent founding – just a little over 10 years ago – it has gained authority not only in Armenia but also abroad, and yesterday Mr Sargsyan spoke about this. It is important that specialists in a large number of fields are trained there, and we would like to see this continue. It is also good that the university cooperates with dozens of leading universities in Russia, the CIS, Europe and America. This is very useful and very valuable, so I was pleased to take the decision to single out our colleagues who work hard for the benefit of Russian-Armenian relations.
The fact that the university is developing successfully and dynamically owes much to its Rector, Mr Armen Darbinyan. Today he received a Russian medal, the Order of Friendship. Mr Gagik Sarkisyan, the first provost of the university received the honorary title Honored Higher Education Specialist on behalf of the Russian Federation. Thanks to his active involvement the university now ranks among educational leaders. And for his work in the field of Russian language and literature Mr Aram Grigoryan also received a state decoration, the highest in the humanities, the Pushkin Medal.