August 1, 2011

RFE/RL-- President Dmitry Medvedev has again defended a
Russian-Armenian agreement extending Russia's military presence
in Armenia, saying that it contributes to peace and stability in
the volatile South Caucasus. The agreement signed during Medvedev's
official visit to Yerevan in August 2010 extended Russia's lease on
a military base headquartered in Gyumri by 24 years, until 2045, and
upgraded its security mission.The deal took the form of amendments
to a 1995 Russian-Armenian defense treaty. The Armenian and Russian
parliaments ratified it earlier this year.

"The decision to prolong the presence of the Russian military base in
Armenia was made because Russia is interested in maintaining peace
and stability in the region," Medvedev told an Azerbaijani business
magazine in an interview published over the weekend.

"The military base is tasked with ensuring peace and order, maintaining
peace and reducing difficulties that we have today," he said.Medvedev
gave similar assurances to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev when
he visited Baku last September. He insisted that the Russian-Armenian
defense pact poses no security threat to Azerbaijan.

The pact commits Moscow to defending Armenia's entire territory against
possible aggression and supplying the Armenian military with modern
weaponry.Armenian officials say this will discourage Azerbaijan from
acting on its growing threats to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
by force. Some of them have gone as far as to claim that the Russian
military will openly support its Armenian ally in case of renewed
war in Karabakh. Russian officials have not confirmed this, though.

In his interview, Medvedev also touched upon his personal involvement
in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, expressing hope that the presidents
of Armenia and Azerbaijan will continue to meet on a regular basis.

"Those have been important discussions during which the parties
noted the existence of a number of difficulties in that process,"
he said of about a dozen Armenian-Azerbaijani summits hosted by him
since 2008."But in any case, these efforts are producing results
and negotiations are continuing," added Medvedev. "In my opinion,
the intensity of these contacts should not decrease."

The Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported recently that Medvedev is
frustrated with Presidents Serzh Sarkisian's and Ilham Aliyev's failure
to achieve a breakthrough at their last meeting held in Kazan on June
24. It cited an unnamed Kremlin source as saying that the Russian
president will organize another summit only if Aliyev and Sarkisian
"firmly express their readiness to sign up to the principles of
the settlement."