By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia will continue to strengthen its relations with NATO as long as they do not interfere with its military alliance with Russia, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian reiterated on Wednesday.
Sarkisian said his country is stepping up its participation in the U.S.-led alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program not least because of its efforts to forge closer links with the European Union.
“We can not fail to closely cooperate with the organization which is ensuring the union’s security. So we will certainly deepen our relations with NATO,” he said.
“But as we have said repeatedly, that will not be at the expense of our cooperation within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty organization,” he added in reference to the Russian-dominated security pact binding together six ex-Soviet states.
Armenia, which has traditionally been oriented toward Russia, has shown greater interest in recent years in military cooperation with NATO and the United States in particular. It will upgrade its participation in the PfP by signing an “individual partnership action plan” with the alliance later this year.
Guenther Altenburg, a NATO assistant secretary general, was in Yerevan last week, discussing this and other issues with President Robert Kocharian and Sarkisian. The talks coincided with a separate visit to Armenia, the second in less than a year, by the deputy commander of the U.S. forces in Europe, General Charles Wald.
These developments have fueled speculation about a fundamental re-orientation of Armenian foreign policy. Sarkisian’s comments, however, indicate the opposite. The influential minister made it clear that Armenia’s broader ties with the EU and the U.S. also should not hinder its “strategic partnership” with Russia. He all but ruled out military-technical cooperation with NATO.
“Our entire weaponry is Soviet- or Russian-made, and trying to replace the existing structure, which may be flawed, with another one would be economically and politically wrong,” Sarkisian.
Sarkisian was speaking at a joint news conference with Lithuania’s visiting Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas. Kirkilas, whose country joined the EU and NATO last year, welcome the Armenian government’s pursuit of closer ties with the West.
“We especially welcomed Armenia’s decision to take part in the [U.S.-led] peace-keeping operations in Iraq,” he said. “I know that the decision was not an easy one. But I think that it was the right decision.”