Friday, Baku Unimpressed By More Armenian Information On Minefields • Ruzanna Stepanian • Susan Badalian Azerbaijan military sappers clear mines in a countryside outside the town of Fuzuli, November 26, 2020 Azerbaijan dismissed on Friday Armenia’s decision to provide it with more maps of Armenian minefields in and around Nagorno-Karabakh made in response to Azerbaijani demands for such information. Baku renewed those demands earlier this month after reporting that another Azerbaijani civilian hit a landmine in the Karabakh conflict zone and was injured as a result. It called for international pressure on Yerevan. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said late on Thursday that it has located eight more minefields in recent interviews with Karabakh Armenian military personnel who fled the region along its entire civilian population following Azerbaijan’s September 2023 military offensive. Their maps will be passed on to the Azerbaijani side “in the coming days,” the NSS said in a statement. The statement came the day after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian visited the NSS headquarters in Yerevan and met with the security agency’s leadership. Pashinian signaled last week his readiness to make more concessions to Azerbaijan. On January 13, he accused Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev of laying claim to Armenian territory. Responding to the NSS statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that Armenia is still not serious about helping Azerbaijan clear the territories recaptured by it during the 2020 war and last September of landmines. “This step cannot be assessed as a confidence-building measure,” it said. “Azerbaijan expects Armenia to present concrete maps of all mined territories.” The ministry claimed that minefield maps provided by the Armenian side earlier are very inaccurate. Yerevan shared that information with Baku in 2021 in return for the release of dozens of Armenian prisoners of war. The NSS statement suggests that it is not linking the fresh data on minefields with the repatriation of at least 23 other Armenian captives remaining in Azerbaijan. They include eight former political and military leaders of Karabakh detained following the Azerbaijani assault. Azerbaijani courts on Thursday extended their pre-trial detention by another four months. The country’s prosecutor-general said on Friday that they must stand trial for their “crimes against the Azerbaijani people.” The Armenian government strongly condemned the arrests and urged the international community to help free the Karabakh leaders. But it does not seem to be raising the issue in ongoing contacts with Baku on an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty. Siranush Sahakian, an Armenian human rights lawyer dealing with the captives, suggested that their release is not a top priority for Pashinian’s administration now. She said Baku is using the issue to try to clinch more concessions from Yerevan. “I share the view that there were going to be concession regardless of the issue of the captives,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “It’s just that the issue is being used for selling those concessions to the public.” Pashinian’s political opponents say that Armenia is not gaining anything in exchange for those concessions and that this appeasement policy will not lead to a lasting peace between the two South Caucasus nations. Armenian FM Again Invited To Moscow For Talks On Azerbaijan RUSSIA - A view of the Russian Foreign Ministry building in Moscow. Russia said on Friday that it has again invited Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan to visit Moscow to discuss a potential peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Ararat Samvelovich Mirzoyan was invited to Moscow for consultations on issues of the peace treaty many times, starting from last September,” said Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. “Among other things, that was discussed during bilateral contacts at various levels. The last signal was sent to Yerevan literally a few days ago.” In recent months, Moscow has repeatedly offered to host high-level Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks as it sought to sideline the West and regain the initiative in the negotiation process. The Russian Foreign Ministry rebuked the Armenian leadership last month for ignoring these offers. It warned that Yerevan’s current preference of Western mediation may spell more trouble for the Armenian people. On January 17, a senior Russian diplomat urged Armenia to agree to resume Russian-mediated negotiations with Azerbaijan based on earlier understandings reached by the leaders of the three countries. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the following day that unlike Yerevan, Baku is ready to sign the peace treaty in Russia. “I have not heard such an assurance from the Azerbaijani side either during closed meetings or publicly,” Mirzoyan told reporters earlier this week. “If Sergei Lavrov claims so, maybe he has some reason to make such a claim.” The chief Armenian diplomat did not clarify whether his government is ready for peace talks hosted by Russia now that the Azerbaijani side objects to U.S. and European Union mediation. Russian-Armenian relations have steadily deteriorated since the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Yerevan accusing Moscow of not honoring security commitments to its longtime regional ally. Azerbaijan’s recapture of Karabakh only added to those tensions. Zakharova insisted on Friday that Russia remains Armenia’s ally, having made a “decisive contribution to preventing an even more difficult situation and, one can even say, the defeat of Armenia.” Armenia, Georgia Announce ‘Strategic Partnership’ • Shoghik Galstian Georgia - Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili (R) and his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinian meet in Tbilisi, . Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his Georgian counterpart Irakli Gharibashvili signed a joint declaration calling for “strategic partnership” between their countries as they held talks in Tbilisi on Friday. They described the declaration as historic. It was not immediately made public. “De facto, we were already strategic partners and friends,” Gharibashvili told a joint news briefing. “It can be said that this reality was formalized today.” “This achievement is the result of several years of joint work and reflects our commonalities and intentions,” Pashinian said for his part. The Armenian premier listed more than a dozen areas where Armenia and Georgia will strive for closer ties. Defense and security was not among them. The declaration was signed at the end of a session of a Georgian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Both Pashinian and Gharibashvili spoke of growing commercial ties between the two neighboring states, saying their bilateral trade surpassed $1 billion last year. Armenian government data shows, however, that Georgian-Armenian trade stood at just $239 million in January-November 2023, down by more than 13 percent from the same period a year earlier. Pashinian said he also briefed Gharibashvili on Armenia’s peace talks with Azerbaijan. He said he hopes that the peace process will resume “on a full scale” after next month’s Azerbaijani presidential election. “I want to express our hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will sign a peace treaty soon,” Gharibashvili said in this regard. Another Foreign Investor Gives Armenian Government Minority Stake • Robert Zargarian Armenia- Viva cell MTS, undated A Cyprus-registered company has pledged to donate a 20 percent stake in one of Armenia’s three mobile phone operators to the Armenian government after being allowed to buy it from Russia’s MTS telecom giant. MTS first asked Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to approve the sale of its Armenian subsidiary to the little-known company, Fedilco Group Limited, last spring. The PSRC rejected the request at the time, saying that the deal could damage the country’s national security. It did not elaborate. MTS, which runs Russia’s largest mobile phone network, filed another request in November and it was granted this time around. The company announced on Thursday that the sale of the Viva-MTS operator to Fedilco for an undisclosed amount has been completed. A separate statement released by Viva-MTS said that its new parent company, which was reportedly registered in Cyprus in 2022, is controlled by “professional investors” Zhe Zhang and Konstantin Sokolov. It said they intend to cede 20 percent of shares in Viva-MTS to the Armenian government in view of the cellphone operator’s “strategic importance” to the country. The PSRC did not clarify whether it dropped its initial opposition to the deal because of the lavish donation pledged by Fedilco. A senior official from the regulatory body, Armen Hunanian, said only that the PSRC followed the recommendations of the Armenian Ministry of High-Technology. The ministry declined to comment on Friday. Fedilco is the third foreign company to give the government a sizable minority stake in its Armenian subsidiary. Russia’s GeoProMining group was the first to do so right after buying Armenia’s largest metallurgical enterprise in 2021. And just last week, the government was formally granted a 12.5 percent stake in a multimillion-dollar gold mining project which it helped to freeze in 2018. The government pledged last year to help U.S. and Canadian investors revive the Amulsar project. Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2024 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.