Putin Politics: Russian president’s expected visit likely to influence decisions in Yerevan

Vladimir Putin - Photo: www.kremlin.ru
Vladimir Putin - Photo: www.kremlin.ru

Several Armenian media, citing their sources, report the visit to Armenia by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was originally said to have been scheduled for mid-September, will take place in late October or early November.

The Russian leader’s visit was first announced in the summer by the director of the CIS Institute Konstantin Zatulin, who said that Putin will attend Collective Security Treaty Organization exercises in Armenia held in September. The Kremlin had neither denied nor confirmed that information, leaving Armenian experts guessing afterwards why Putin did not come to Armenia.

Now the discussion is centered around the entourage of President Putin on his possible visit to Armenia as well as what he will actually be bringing to Armenia. The price of natural gas remains high on the agenda of Armenian-Russian talks.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov said recently that his country was asked to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and offered as a “reward” a reduction of natural gas prices down to $160 per cubic meter. Otherwise, the price of this fuel would fluctuate around $440. Azarov said that Russia could thus lose its largest buyer of gas; he did not agree that his country should join the Customs Union.

One should assume that the same proposal will be made to Armenia. Armenia’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Armen Movsisyan acknowledged that the negotiations on the gas price with Russia are still continuing. And experts believe that Russia will offer to maintain or even reduce prices for Armenia if the latter agrees to integrate with the Eurasian Community, a new integration process in the post-Soviet space initiated by the Russian president and expected to get its flesh and bones by 2015.

Another issue that is almost certainly going to be discussed during Putin’s likely Yerevan meetings will be the upcoming elections in Armenia. Soon it will be the stage of nomination of candidates for president in Armenia, and the Kremlin has not yet expressed its preference on the candidates. In Armenia, the guessing game is around whether Putin will extend his support to the incumbent president, Serzh Sargsyan, or will back Robert Kocharyan, the former president.

The Haykakan Zhamanak daily writes that Putin will bring with him to Armenia Karen Karapetyan, a former mayor of Yerevan and ex-CEO of ArmRosgazprom, a Russian-Armenian joint venture distributing natural gas in Armenia. At present, Karapetyan is deputy manager of Gazprombank in Moscow. The Russia-connected top manager is tipped as a possible prime minister in Armenia, and the paper assumes it is the prime minister’s post and not that of president that Putin will be talking about during his visit to Armenia.

However, there is still one remarkable circumstance that could change everything. On October 10 Putin unexpectedly canceled his visit to Turkey, which was originally scheduled for October 14-15. The very next day Turkey intercepted a Syrian civilian aircraft operating a flight from Moscow to Damascus. Turkish air force jets made the Syrian plane land to be searched. Ankara insists component parts for prohibited weapons were found on board the civil aircraft.

Experts rushed to describe the incident as a sign of damaged relations between Turkey and Russia, which have been developing quite incrementally of late. The possible reason for the souring relations is the escalating situation around Syria and Turkey’s possible invasion of this embattled country. In Yerevan there has been a traditional concern that well-developing Russo-Turkish relations could come at the expense of Armenia. In particular, Russia, on the initiative of Turkey, could insist on the return of some territories around Karabakh to Azerbaijan, it does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, has not contributed to the opening of an airport in Stepanakert, and so on.

The Turkish factor may also be crucial in what Putin offers to Armenia. In particular, Russia may want to strengthen its military base in Armenia that guards the border with Turkey.

Whether the allied relations between Yerevan and Moscow grow in the future will also depend on the further course of the Russia-Turkey row.

If things around Syria develop according to their recent scenario, Turkey is likely to invade the Middle Eastern country, which will ultimately damage its ties with Moscow and create a new international situation for Yerevan.

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