By Emil Danielyan
Seventy soldiers were flown from Yerevan to Kosovo on Thursday as Armenia doubled the number of its troops deployed in the former Yugoslav province as part of a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force.
The dispatch of extra troops was announced by the Armenian government in January and unanimously approved by parliament late last month. It reflects Yerevan’s growing security ties with the West and its resulting commitment to expanding Armenian participation in international peacekeeping missions.
The deployment was timed to coincide with a regular rotation of 34 Armenian peacekeepers that have been stationed in Kosovo since early 2004. The platoon returned to Yerevan Wednesday after a six-month tour of duty.
The bigger unit that replaced it is also part of a special peacekeeping battalion of Armenia’s Armed Forces that had been formed in 2001 with the financial and technical assistance of the United States, Greece and other NATO member states. Armenia undertook to gradually expand the battalion into an army brigade by 2015 in line with its Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO.
The beefing up of the Armenian peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo also coincided with a meeting in Brussels of defense ministers of NATO member state which focused on continued international security presence in the newly-independent country. The ministers were expected to reaffirm pledges to maintain 16,500 peacekeepers there as long as needed.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian also attended the meeting along with his counterparts from other non-NATO states that have troops on the ground. Ohanian was scheduled to hold separate talks with senior alliance officials.
Although Armenia has not yet recognized Kosovo’s independence, some officials in Yerevan say the increased troop presence will underscore Armenian support for the application of the principle of peoples’ self-determination in the resolution of ethnic disputes. They hope that would facilitate international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
Exposing their fears of the precedent set by Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia recently withdrew their troops from the breakaway region.