By Emil Danielyan
Russia began Friday the planned transfer to Armenia of some of its troops and military equipment stationed in neighboring Georgia. A top Russian military official was reported to dismiss Azerbaijan’s claims that the redeployment threatens regional security by undermining the balance of forces in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Itar-Tass news agency said the first unit of a Russian communications regiment based near Tbilisi entered Armenia and joined the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri. The transfer of the remaining units will be complete within the next three days, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Azerbaijan has protested against the redeployment agreed by the Russian and Georgian militaries. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev on Monday accused Russia of “turning Armenia into an explosive arsenal and an even greater hotbed of tension, which can be targeted against neighbor countries at any minute."
But Anatoly Mazurkevich, who heads the foreign affairs department at the Russian Defense Ministry, assured Baku that the move will not change the military balance in the region, arguing that it involves only non-combat equipment.
Russia had already moved 76 armored personnel carriers and other military hardware to Armenia in November 2000 as part of a gradual reduction of its military presence in pro-Western Georgia. Moscow and Tbilisi are still at odds over when the Russian troops should leave Georgian territory. The administration of President Eduard Shevardnadze is pushing for a complete Russian withdrawal in the next three years, while the Russians insist they need at least ten years to vacate their military bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi.