MOSCOW (RFE/RL) — Russia and Armenia remain strategic allies, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, effectively denying tensions with the current Armenian leadership.

“There is nothing in our relations that has crumbled and requires restoration,” Putin told an annual marathon news conference in Moscow. “We have smooth relations with Armenia. It’s our strategic partner in the region and the world in general. It’s a member of the [Collective Security Treaty Organization] and the Eurasian Economic Union.”

“We need to build on what was created by the previous generations of leaders,” he said. “The Armenian people are the closest ally of the Russian people in the Transcaucasus. This has historically been the case, this is the case and, I hope, this will remain the case.”

Putin went on to reveal that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian will visit Moscow next week. He said he will discuss with Pashinian ways of further strengthening bilateral ties.

Putin has still not congratulated the Armenian leader on his bloc’s landslide victory in the December 9 parliamentary elections, fuelling Armenian media speculation about friction between Moscow and Yerevan.

The Russian president was quick to congratulate Pashinian on becoming prime minister in May after weeks of mass protests that toppled Armenia’s former government. Moscow subsequently criticized the new authorities in Yerevan for prosecuting then CSTO Secretary General Yuri Khachaturov and former President Robert Kocharian.

Putin made a point of telephoning of Kocharian in August to congratulate him on his 64th birthday anniversary. Kocharian, who denies coup charges brought against him, was again arrested two days before the Armenian snap elections.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Armenians now have “cause for alarm” because of what he described as “unceremonious” U.S. interference in their country’s internal affairs and foreign policy. He said Moscow hopes that the Armenian government “will have the courage to resist the unhidden external blackmail and pressure.”

The Armenian Foreign Ministry responded to Karasin’s claims later on Wednesday, saying that Russian-Armenian relations cannot be harmed by Yerevan’s dealings with other states.

“We have repeatedly stressed that Armenia consistently builds its relations with other countries on the basis of sovereign equality,” a ministry spokeswoman told the RIA Novosti news agency. “This principle will continue to be at the heart of our foreign policy.”

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