Armenia's prime minister talks with Putin in Moscow while allies' ties are under strain

MOSCOW (AP) — Armenia's prime minister visited Moscow and held talks Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid spiraling tensions between the estranged allies.

Putin hosted Nikol Pashinyan for talks following a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-dominated economic alliance they both attended earlier in the day. The negotiations came a day after Putin began his fifth term at a glittering Kremlin inauguration.

In brief remarks at the start of the talks, Putin said that bilateral trade was growing, but acknowledged “some issues concerning security in the region.”

Pashinyan, who last visited Moscow in December, said that “certain issues have piled up since then.”

Armenia's ties with its longtime sponsor and ally Russia have grown increasingly strained after Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign in September to reclaim the Karabakh region, ending three decades of ethnic Armenian separatists’ rule there.

Armenian authorities accused Russian peacekeepers who were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after the previous round of hostilities in 2020 of failing to stop Azerbaijan's onslaught. Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, has rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene.

The Kremlin, in turn, has been angered by Pashinyan’s efforts to deepen ties with the West and distance his country from Moscow-dominated security and economic alliances.

Just as Pashinyan was visiting Moscow on Wednesday, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry announced that the country will stop paying fees to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-dominated security pact. Armenia has previously suspended its participation in the grouping as Pashinyan has sought to bolster ties with the European Union and NATO.

Russia was also vexed by Armenia’s decision to join the International Criminal Court, which last year indicted Putin for alleged war crimes connected to the Russian action in Ukraine.

Moscow, busy with the Ukrainian conflict that has dragged into a third year, has publicly voiced concern about Yerevan's westward shift but sought to downplay the differences.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded Tuesday that “there are certain problems in our bilateral relations,” but added that “there is a political will to continue the dialogue."