Following the talks, Vladimir Putin and Serzh Sargsyan gave a joint news conference.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
We have just finished the main part of our meeting with President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan. As always, it took place in a friendly, trusting and constructive atmosphere.
We have discussed topical issues of bilateral cooperation and a number of key regional problems. Mr Sargsyan told me about the recent events – I would say tragic events in Yerevan – related to the hostage situation.
I would like to emphasise and reiterate that Russia strongly condemned this action by militants right from the start. We consider unacceptable any attempts to resolve difficult domestic political issues through illegal, unconstitutional actions.
During our talks today, we discussed ways of further developing our bilateral relations, including our trade and investment ties.
Russia is Armenia’s leading partner. We account for a quarter of the republic’s trade. Regrettably, in 2015 our bilateral trade fell by a little more than 11 percent. This was mostly due to unfavourable developments in the global raw materials and financial markets.
However, analysts noted positive signs in January-May of this year, notably an increase in trade. Although small, it still constitutes a trend and, as I said, we are happy about it. Now we must keep it going.
Imports of food and other agricultural products from Armenia have grown considerably, by 86 percent. Investment cooperation is going strong – Russia’s total investment in the Armenian economy has exceeded four billion dollars. It amounts to 40 percent of all foreign investment in Armenia.
About 1,300 Russian companies are operating in Armenia – around one third of all joint ventures with foreign capital. They are working in key sectors of the economy – gas, transport, telecommunications and finance.
I will mention our major domestic investors: this is primarily Gazprom, which invested about $800 million in Armenia’s energy projects; Rosatom, which is modernising the Armenian nuclear power plant using a Russian government loan of $270 million; and Russian Railways, which is carrying out a large-scale programme on upgrading Armenia’s railway infrastructure to the tune of over $500 million.
Armenia’s entry in the Eurasian Economic Union in January 2015 gave fresh impetus to bilateral contacts. The republic has already felt the advantages of membership. In 2015, as I said in the beginning of our meeting, the GDP of the Republic of Armenia grew by more than 10 percent, while revenues from import customs duties increased by 23.6 percent.
We have seen a high level of cooperation in educational, scientific and cultural exchanges. About 3,500 students study at the Russian-Armenian University and at eight affiliates of Russian universities.
The first academic year has come to an end at Moscow State University’s affiliate in Yerevan.
The founding of a Russian-language grammar school in Yerevan is under consideration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Naturally, we paid considerable attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, taking into account the results of the Armenia-Russia-Azerbaijan trilateral summit in St Petersburg on June 20 and my latest meeting, as you know, with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, which occurred just recently – on August 8.
I would like to stress that Russia is interested in decreasing tensions in relations between our neighbours. We will continue doing all we can to help undo the Karabakh knot in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and through direct contacts with Yerevan and Baku. We hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will be able to settle their disagreements through compromise – without winners and losers.
We also discussed some issues of cooperation within the CSTO now chaired by Armenia. The next CSTO summit is scheduled to take place in Yerevan in October and Russia is certainly planning to attend it.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat that the talks went very well. I am confident that their results will facilitate the continued development of the multifaceted Russian-Armenian strategic partnership and the consolidation of regional stability and security.
Thank you very much for your attention.
President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan: Ladies and gentlemen,
To begin with, I would like to thank President of Russia Vladimir Putin for his wonderful hospitality.
Our active political dialogue at the highest level is a testament to the state of our bilateral relations, which span all fields of government activity – from the OECD allied partnership to economic integration in the Eurasian Economic Union and close humanitarian cooperation.
We are expanding ties between our regions. The now regular interregional Armenian-Russian forums and direct contacts between our regions are playing a major part in this. We appreciate Russia’s role in the world and in our region where a host of processes affecting stability and security are taking place simultaneously.
Armenia closely followed President Vladimir Putin’s intensive foreign policy contacts during the past week, which is absolutely understandable considering that Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey border on Armenia.
I would like to thank the President of Russia for the information he provided about these meetings and I am confident that Armenia will only gain from Russia’s invigorated role in the region. Today we discussed the considerable success we have had in increasing Armenian-Russian trade. This is a direct response to those sceptics who said that Armenia would not gain anything from membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.
Suffice it to say that despite all the international complications and obstacles our trade grew substantially, and Armenian exports to Russia increased by almost 90 percent in the first half of this year. I am convinced that we will be able to maintain and strengthen this trend since we are far from fully using the existing potential of our trade and economic ties even today.
Naturally, during the talks today we focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and the implementation of the agreements reached during the summits in Vienna and St Petersburg. This includes, first and foremost, the unequivocal fulfilment of the 1994–1995 indefinite trilateral agreements on cessation of hostilities, the formation of a mechanism for investigating incidents and the expansion of the mission of the personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office.
I have again thanked the President of Russia for Russia’s efforts as the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group in partnership with the United States and France, and for his significant personal contribution to the peace process. We discussed in detail the main principles and approaches to the resolution of this complicated issue in Sochi two years ago and they have remained unchanged since then.
It is impossible to resolve such a conflict by seeking to address its consequences rather than its root causes. The core of the Karabakh issue lies in the struggle of the people of Karabakh for self-determination – an inalienable right of all nations in resolving such issues, which should be respected and guaranteed. This is what we discussed in detail with the President of Russia today.
Peaceful negotiations on such a sensitive issue can never be simple. But all attempts to upset the balance of forces or create winners and losers are doomed to fail. Each side should benefit from realistic, clear-cut and feasible solutions that are rooted in mutual respect and trust rather than hatred and xenophobia.
The question of peace and accord is particularly relevant during the Olympic Games. We would like to wish success once again to the Russian and Armenian teams and to celebrate together the successes your and our athletes have already achieved. We are very proud that Russian athletes of Armenian origin have done very well.
The Ice Palace named after Irina Rodnina, a legend in world figure skating, opened in Yerevan several months ago. I am convinced that shared victories and achievements in sport fully reflect the mutual feelings of our nations. As the saying goes, a sound mind in a sound body.
Thank you very much.
Question: This question is for President Putin.
Mr President, you are certainly aware that Karabakh is the most sensitive issue for Armenians, and we all have a great deal of hope for a peaceful settlement now that a trilateral meeting was convened in St Petersburg at your initiative.
However, shortly after the meeting, the President of Azerbaijan issued a statement saying that the Armenian side had allegedly promised to return five districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, and then three more districts. How do these statements correspond to the spirit of the negotiation process in St Petersburg? Do you think they are creating grounds for another round of escalation, with Azerbaijan obtaining a large number of weapons, whereas the supply of Russian weapons to Armenia remains, to put it mildly, questionable?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I don’t believe it is my job to comment on the statements of my colleagues, whether in Azerbaijan, Armenia, or anywhere else. I think that if you want to get a complete answer to your question, you should ask the person who made the statement.
However, I think everyone understands that whenever there is a difficult process of searching for reconciliation and compromise underway, all political and diplomatic means are used in the course of these rather complex activities, including the media, in order to stake out the positions of the sides. There is nothing unusual about it. It is, in fact, common practice.
In fact, I believe that both Armenia and Azerbaijan really want to find a way out of this situation in order to live in peace and harmony, to cooperate, and to grow their respective economies. Armenia is also interested in removing all infrastructural and economic restrictions in order to develop its economy, improve life for its people, and consolidate the Armenian state. This is our goal, the goal of a settlement. And the goal is to achieve these results.
Azerbaijan has similar goals. My recent contacts with President Aliyev in Baku bear this out. However, it is necessary to find approaches and arrangements where, as I mentioned, no one feels like a winner or a loser. There must be a solution developed by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan that is accepted by the societies of both countries. That is the most important thing. Russia, as well as other countries of the Minsk Group, could act as a guarantor, and adopt corresponding UNSC resolutions, if necessary.
As for the weapons, we have a programme on this with Armenia. Armenia is a CSTO member and our ally. We have certain mutual obligations, and Russia has always kept its obligations, has always fulfilled them.
In today’s arms market, any country can buy almost any weapon. A country such as Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country of almost 10 million people with a fast-growing economy, as well as sufficiently large gold and currency reserves can, of course, buy weapons anywhere it likes. You see? Anywhere. However, I would rather not focus on the military side of things now. If we want to resolve this problem, we should use peaceful means.
Question: I have a question on settlement too, though on a somewhat different subject.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke in Baku of the possibility of a Normandy format meeting taking place on the sidelines of the G20 in China. Mr President, what is the likelihood of such a meeting taking place, particularly when, as reports say, the Russian intelligence services have just prevented the Ukrainian intelligence services from carrying out terrorist attacks on Crimean soil?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, these are very worrying reports. Indeed, our intelligence services prevented a sabotage and reconnaissance group from the Ukrainian Defence Ministry from infiltrating Crimean territory. In this situation, a Normandy format meeting would not make much sense right now, all the more so in China.
Judging by the situation, those who seized power in Kiev back then and still hold it now are not seeking the sort of compromise solutions I spoke of with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process, and instead of working towards a peaceful solution have decided to turn to terror.
This brings to mind the attempt on the life of the head of the Lugansk People’s Republic, which seems to fit into this same context. And now we have this attempt to infiltrate Crimea. I think that the media have already reported that Russia has casualties and lost two military servicemen in this incident. We cannot ignore such matters, of course.
However, I would like to appeal to our American and European partners too. I think it is now clear to all that the authorities in Kiev today are not looking for a solution to the problem through negotiations, but are resorting to terror. This is a very worrying development.
What we have seen just now in Crimea looks like a foolish and criminal action. It is foolish because you cannot have a positive impact on the people in Crimea in this manner, and it is criminal because people have lost their lives.
However, I think that the situation is actually even more worrying because acts such as this have no sense other than to divert the people in Ukraine itself from the lamentable economic situation and the serious difficulties in which many people there live today.
This attempt to provoke a flare-up of violence and spark a conflict is nothing other than a desire to divert public opinion at home from those who seized power in Kiev and who continue to hold it and to rob their own people in order to remain in power as long as they can and create conditions for continuing to rob their people. This was an act committed using low and base means, and it is a very dangerous game.
We will do everything we can, of course, to ensure security at infrastructure facilities and protect people, and we will take additional security measures, serious additional measures, technical and others.
Most important of all, those who support the current authorities in Kiev must decide just want they want. Do they want their clients to continue carrying out provocations of this kind, or do they want to genuinely reach a peaceful settlement? If they do want this, and I very much hope they do, it is time to finally take some real steps to put the needed pressure on the current authorities in Kiev.