Armenia a no-show at Russia-led conference

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin greet each other prior to a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin greet each other prior to a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW -- A Russian-dominated security grouping held a summit in Belarus on Thursday with the absence of one of its members, Armenia, which has been irked by what it sees as a lack of support over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Speaking at the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed what he called the group's role in securing peace and stability in the region.

But in a sign of the widening rift between Russia and Armenia, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan snubbed the summit in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, citing his government's dissatisfaction with the organization. Pashinyan and his officials have emphasized that Armenia doesn't plan to opt out of the grouping altogether.

Armenia has previously canceled joint drills and ignored ministerial meetings of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Armenian authorities have accused Russian peacekeepers who were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after a 2020 war of failing to stop September's onslaught by Azerbaijan, which reclaimed control of the Armenian-populated region in a 24-hour blitz following two decades of separatist rule.

Moscow has rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn't have a mandate to intervene and charging that Pashinyan himself had effectively paved the way for the collapse of separatist rule in the region by previously acknowledging Azerbaijan's sovereignty over it.

The mutual accusations have further strained relations between Armenia and its longtime ally Russia, which has accused the Armenian government of a growing pro-Western tilt.

Valery Karbalevich, an independent political analyst, noted that Armenia's absence from the summit reflected the waning Kremlin influence.

"The post-Soviet alliances were based on Russia's subsidies, and Russia now is facing serious problems with resources amid the fighting in Ukraine," he said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov voiced regret about Pashinyan snubbing Thursday's summit, saying that Moscow hopes that "Armenia isn't changing its foreign policy vector and it remains our ally and strategic partner."

But the summit's host, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, was more outspoken in his criticism of Armenia, saying without naming Pashinyan that "some of our partners took steps and made statements that were provocative."

"If you have complaints, you must voice them in an eye-to-eye conversation instead of dumping stuff to the media," he said, adding that it was "irresponsible and short-sighted" to create a "conflict situation" in the group to the benefit of the hostile West.

Lukashenko is a staunch ally of Moscow who has relied on Russian subsidies and political support throughout his three-decade rule and allowed the Kremlin to use his country's territory for sending troops into Ukraine.

Speaking after Thursday's summit, he hailed the declared deployment of some of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus earlier this year, arguing that "only the existence of the powerful weapons could guarantee security in the region."

The declared deployment of the Russian weapons in Belarus territory marked a new stage in the Kremlin's nuclear saber-rattling over its invasion of Ukraine and was another bid to discourage the West from increasing military support to Kyiv.

Information for this article was contributed by Yuras Karmanau of The Associated Press.

  photo  Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo prior to a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Konstantin Zavrazhin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  A view of a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  A view of a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Konstantin Zavrazhin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  From left: Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation Imangali Tasmagambetov, Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan's President Sadyr Zhaparov, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon pose for a photo prior to a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Valery Sharifulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)