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Armenian PM Downplays Problems In Russian Relations


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in May.

YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has downplayed problems in Yerevan's relations with Moscow, describing them as a "work process in its natural course."

Answering questions from citizens in a live Facebook broadcast late on September 2, Pashinian also announced his upcoming visit to Moscow, during which he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He gave no indications of the date of the planned meeting but said it will take place soon.

"This will be our third meeting, and...we will discuss numerous issues that are on the agenda of our relations and will find solutions to numerous problems," Pashinian said.

"I don't mean to insist that all possible problems will be solved, but I can surely say that our natural cooperation continues," he added.

Some analysts suggest that Russia was irked by several moves by the new Armenian government that included the prosecution of former President Robert Kocharian and several other senior former officials on charges related to the deadly postelection crackdown on opposition protesters in 2008.

Among those charged with "overthrowing the constitutional order" is Yuri Khachaturov, a former deputy defense minister who currently chairs the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the prosecutions, arguing that they ran counter to the new Armenian leadership's earlier pledges not to "persecute its predecessors for political motives."

In August, Pashinian, who played a key role in the 2008 protests as an opposition figure, said Moscow should "adapt" to the new political realities of Armenia.

Speculation about souring Armenian-Russian relations increased last week when the Kremlin's official website said Russian President Putin called Kocharian on August 31 to congratulate him on his 64th birthday.

The Kremlin reported no other details of the phone call that came two weeks after Kocharian pledged to return to active politics and challenge the current Armenian government.

In another development, the Russian Interfax news agency reported on August 31 that Moscow had refused to extradite to Yerevan a former Armenian defense minister, Mikael Harutiunian, who is thought to live in Russia, on the grounds that he is also a Russian citizen.

However, a spokesman for Armenian prosecutors denied the report, saying that they were unaware of Harutiunian's whereabouts.

Harutiunian is wanted in Armenia on charges stemming from his alleged role in the 2008 postelection crackdown.

In a separate development on September 3, Armenia’s parliament speaker, Ara Babloyan, expressed hope that Armenia will receive contracts from the Syrian government for reconstruction projects.

Babloyan made the remarks during a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Armenia, Mohammed Haj Ibrahim.

Backed by Russia and Iran, forces loyal to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are preparing an offensive in Idlib Province, the last stronghold of fighters opposed to Assad.

That has put Russia and Iranian firms in a position where they are expected to get contracts from the Syrian government for reconstruction projects in the war-torn country.

The United States and its allies say reconstruction assistance should be tied to a process that includes UN-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria.

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