Comments 17:34 21/06/2010

Armenian President’s visit to Saint Petersburg

A delegation led by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was in the Northern Capital of Russia
on June 17-19 to attend Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. On inviting side’s initiative, the forum format was also used to continue high-level discussions over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. And the local Armenian community had timed to Armenian President’s visit some of the solemn events dated to the 300th anniversary of foundation of Armenian community in Saint Petersburg, expecting them to be launched at high level. They were not mistaken, and President Sargsyan did not reject Armenian community’s request in spite of his vast agenda.

Important point of departure with lack of progress

The visit started immediately after President’s arrival. Armenian, Russian and Azerbaijani Presidents’ tripartite meeting was scheduled for June 17 at Konstantinovskiy Palace next to
President Sargsyan’s temporary residence.

Certainly, the meeting took place. However, this time the meeting was again closed, and nothing about the discussions was publicized. When being photographed and shot video for protocol, in the presence of reporters, the Presidents spoke about bad weather only. The Russian President felt sorry for the cold weather after the unusual warm May in the European part of Russia, and the guests mentioned that, in spite of it, the reception and conditions are wonderful. Lack of statements drew attention to the moods of the negotiators: Ilham Aliyev was fettered a little and Serzh Sargsyan was in a noticeably good mood.

Reporters were waiting in the Baltiyskaya Zvezda hotel near the Konstantinovskaya Palace until the meeting finished and official commentaries on the discussions appeared. While the Presidents meeting was proceeding, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs as well as Personal Representative of OSCE Chairman-in-Office gathered here, in the hotel lobby and held a
stormy discussion. In response to our request about the goal of their visit to Saint Petersburg and the current stage of negotiations, French Co-chair Bernard Fassier said categorically: “Sailors have no questions!” (У матросов нет вопросов!). To escape further questions from media the co-chairs had to change their place, but it made us think that they have nothing to say and themselves were waiting for the meeting results in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

The Kremlin press service was the first to provide official information about the meeting. The meeting initiating side reported that “key issues in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution were discussed at the meeting. The positions on a number of disputable provisions in the text of settlement basic principles were drawn nearer.” According to the report, at the meeting, the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents also confirmed their readiness to continue the peaceful dialogue.

More detailed commentaries followed in Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan’s talk to reporters. The Minister said that the meeting was a regular one, it was the continuation of the meetings held on the initiative of the Russian President as well as OSCE MG co-chairs since President Serzh Sargsyan took office. By the way, both Edward Nalbandyan and Spokeswoman for Russian President Natalya Timakova considered it necessary to stress that Russian President’s mediatory efforts are completely supported by the other two OSCE co-chairing countries – U.S. and France.

As to the meeting, Edward Nalbandyan reported that he and his Azerbaijani colleague had continued the negotiations lately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s mediation, and “what was recorded at the Presidents’ meeting was the result of current achievements of sides’ ministerial meetings.” Thus, an agreement was reached at the tripartite meeting to continue the negotiations on that basis. “The Presidents charged the Foreign Ministers to keep on their contacts,” the Minister said noting that they were also charged to keep on active contacts with the co-chairs. “The process is going on. We can say that today’s meeting was constructive and rather useful. It was an important point of departure in the process of Nagorno Karabakh settlement,” the Foreign Minister concluded his assessment of the meeting.

Speaking about the fact of co-chairs’ stay in Saint Petersburg the Minister said that they are going to meet with the sides to discuss the current stage of negotiations and the details of their coming regional visit scheduled for July.

The next day, indeed, the President received the co-chairs who also held a private discussion with Foreign Minister Nalbandyan. They had also held a similar meeting with the Azerbaijani delegation.

Later, it was proved that Ilham Aliyev’s visit agenda was limited to it. The Azerbaijani President arriving in Saint Petersburg to addend the Economic Forum did not wait until the forum kicked off and returned to Baku immediately after his negotiations with the Armenian President and meeting with the co-chairs. What happened after it is indirect evidence that Ilham Aliyev’s participation in the negotiations is formal, and though he is fettered at the meetings, it does not restrain him from giving promises “to continue the peaceful dialogue” and to order to violate the ceasefire regime several hours later. However, experience shows that incidents of the kind do not stay unanswered: the NKR defense army “helps” Ilham Aliyev understand that the negotiations have no alternative, no matter how much undesirable their results are for him.

In any case, it became clear that this regular presidential meeting did not ensure any noticeable progress in the process, either, and the predictions on retaining the status quo were again confirmed.

Davos in the Russian manner

On the second day of his working visit Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan attended Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.

It was the 14th Economic Forum already.

Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum was first organized in 1997. Initially it had been planned to hold the Forum in similarity with and by the format of World Economic Forum in Davos, with CIS representatives only. However, the Forum involved more and more countries and corporations every year. Today we can say that Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum from that of local significance is turning into a global event. Note that the Russian side tried to imitate the whole positive experience of international economic forums. First of all, we imply efficient use of organizing countries’ recreation resources. Thus, Davos Forum is organized in winter, in the hottest Alpine tourism season, while Petersburg Forum was timed to the peak of northern polar day. Thus, visitors of “Northern Venice” not only attend the forum but also enjoy white nights in a mild June weather, admire city’s historical and architectural heritage
as well as enjoy cultural and concert events organized on that day.

This year was not an exception, either, and simultaneously with Saint Petersburg Forum, many events had been organized in the city concert halls, cultural centers and squares. Economic Forum’s agenda and accents were changed considerably instead. At that, in two directions. First, the Forum format and subjects of discussions were changed. According to specialists, political component prevailed at the Forum formerly, while economic accents increase in the past years. And secondly, discussions on economic subjects underwent considerable changes. Term “post-crisis” was often repeated at the discussions.

Forum participants focused on the necessity to carry out structural and institutional reforms in the post-crisis period.

“World economy: rehabilitation management,” “Russia: today and tomorrow,” “A Glance at the future” – these were the three main themes discussed at the Forum, with focus on such issues as new economic and financial models, efficiency of financial management, creation of a healthy investment atmosphere, etc. Naturally, energy sector issues were a key subject for discussion. The causes are well-known: energy carriers extraction and exports, on the one hand, is the basis of Russian economy, on the other hand, is considered as security component for the main importers.

It is not a mere chance that according to tradition, the Russian side institutes Global Energy Prize within the framework of Saint Petersburg Forum. It is an award equal to Nobel Prize and is conferred for progress in the energy sphere. This year Dmitry Medvedev awarded the Prize to two individuals simultaneously – President of Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Boris Paton and Russian scientist Alexander Leontyev.

Coming back to the Forum we should note that Armenian side’s participation in it was representative: all representatives of government financial-economic sector – Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan, Minister of Finance Tigran Davtyan, Minister of Economy Nerses Yeritsyan, and others had arrived in the Northern Capital of Russia.

President Sargsyan attended the Forum opening meeting. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave an opening speech at the meeting on the theme “We have changed.” He spoke of the necessity of changes and modernization in the post-crisis period. Then the participants were divided into groups to hold professional discussions over global economy.

Armenian element on the Neva banks

The third day of Armenian President’s working visit was completely dated to Armenian theme. It is especially active this year in Saint Petersburg since from early 2010 the Armenian community has been celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, with many events dated to the anniversary.

Firstly Serzh Sargsyan attended the solemn opening ceremony of an exhibition “Monuments of Armenian culture at the National Library of Russia” held at the Library. This scientific-cultural center considered as Russia’s biggest book depository will give visitors a possibility three weeks running to see unique and exclusive samples of over 15 thousand units of Armenian language books. Note that more than 100 Armenian manuscripts are kept at the library, and library managers are proud of it, they mention that they exert much efforts to get Armenian manuscripts, and they managed to enrich their library with several samples in the past years. Besides, visitors can see many printed books, maps, other publishing work samples in the library.

Armenian President and figures accompanying him left the library for Saint Petersburg State University. Another event was planned there: a working program on long-term collaboration was to be signed between the University and Yerevan State University. Besides, the University had expressed willingness to unveil pedestal to one of its great professors, Hovsep Orbeli, attended by the Armenian President.

It is noteworthy that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a graduate of Saint Petersburg University, had expressed willingness to personally attend the event. In spite of the scheduled meeting with the French President, the Russian President arrived at the University on his own initiative and not only attended the document signing ceremony but also had a short conversation with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

And just here, at Saint Petersburg University museum corridor, walking about with Dmitry Medvedev, President Sargsyan talked to reporters and commented upon the incident that occurred in Nagorno Karabakh-Azerbaijan contact line on June 19 night.

President Sargsyan’s next stop was the spiritual center of Armenians in Saint Petersburg – Church of St. Catherine. President Sargsyan lit a candle in the church, accompanied by leader of Armenian Apostolic Church Russian and Nor Nakhichevan Diocese, Bishop Ezras Nersisyan and head of local Armenian community Karen Mkrtchyan, then visited national-cultural center next to the church.

Then the Armenian President and other members of delegation visited Mariinsky Theater.

A concert dated to the 300th anniversary of foundation of Armenian community in Saint Petersburg was organized at the theater concert hall. It is noteworthy that besides local Armenian artists, a great friend of Armenian people, world-famous conductor Valery Gergiev also took part in the concert.

The last point of President Sargsyan’s working visit schedule was his traditional meeting with Armenian community members. The reception was organized at Tavricheskiy Palace of Saint Petersburg. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Armenia to Russia Oleg Yesayan, Russian President’s representative in RF north-west region Ilya Klebanov, Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese Head Bishop Ezras Nersisyan gave greeting speeches.

The Armenian President in his address to the local Armenian community congratulated them on their jubilee, spoke about the achievements recorded in the years of Armenian community’s existence as well as local Armenians’ participation in Russian history. The President in his speech also spoke about problems of Armenia and Armenians worldwide. “It is not from stories that we know what means to live in a blockade. In spite of the ceasefire established thanks to Karabakh people’s heroic fight, Armenia continues to live under an illegal, anti-legal blockade by Turkey. Against all that, thanks to our people’s diligence and our friends’ and allies’ invaluable support we managed to stabilize Armenian economy and to ensure growth. However, the blockade keeps on and in the 21st century our children grow up surrounded by dividing lines and mined fields.”

Armenian President’s three decrees were publicized at the reception, by which Bishop Ezras Nersisyan was awarded Second Degree Order For Services to the Homeland and community Head Karen Mkrtchyan and artist Maria Safaryants Movses Khorenatsi Order.

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