By Karine Kalantarian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Friday that Armenia is keeping a Russian military base on its soil because of Turkey’s “hostile” policies, not the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which was cited by a senior Western diplomat.
He said Britain’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Brian Fall, was wrong to state at an international conference in Yerevan on Thursday that the Russian military presence “may be largely determined by [Armenian] perception of a military threat from Azerbaijan.”
“I don’t know which Armenian officials were present when he said that,” Sarkisian told reporters. “They must have immediately corrected him and said that Russian troops have nothing to do with the Karabakh problem and our relations with Azerbaijan in general.”
“Russian troops are stationed in Armenia at the request of the Armenian state and in accordance with a [bilateral] agreement, and make up an integral part of our national security,” he said. “If you want me to specify in relation to which countries the Russian troops could be useful for us, then I’ll tell you: countries outside the CIS. More specifically, Turkey.
“Until now Turkey has pursued a hostile policy towards us. As for what its policy will be in the future, let us wait and see.”
Fall, however, suggested that a resolution of the Karabakh dispute alone would render the Russian base in Armenia useless and pave the way for its withdrawal. “Would Armenia in those conditions want a substantial Russian military presence on its territory?” he asked in a speech at the Rose-Roth Seminar organized by NATO.
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, also present at the seminar, said the remarks should not be construed as an indirect call for Russian pullout. “He spoke in a very hypothetical way and asked some rhetorical questions which are not actual today,” Evans told RFE/RL.
Addressing the conference on Friday, Sarkisian reaffirmed Yerevan’s intention to “complement” close military ties with Russia and membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with a deeper involvement in NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program (PfP). “The guarantees of ensuring Armenia’s security are the Russian-Armenian military alliance within the bilateral and CSTO frameworks and the development of cooperation with NATO structures and the United States,” he said.
Armenia, Sarkisian continued, will embark on wide-ranging “defense reforms” in accordance with the recent upgrading of its participation in the PfP. He said those reforms will result, among other things, in greater civilian control of and presence in the Armenian military. “As a result of such activities Armenia will have a greater capability to interact with European and Euro-Atlantic structures,” he said.
During an ensued question-and-answer session, a Russian participant of the three-day forum wondered if “putting national security into several baskets” would be good for Armenia. “Armenia is not putting its security into different baskets,” replied Sarkisian. “On the contrary, Armenia is adding different components to its security basket.”