By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia’s growing ties with NATO do not run counter to its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the secretary general of the Russian-led military alliance of seven former Soviet republics said on Tuesday.
Nikolay Bordyuzha spoke at the start of two-week CSTO military exercises in Armenia involving some 4,000 mostly Armenian and Russian troops as well as civilian personnel. Their official purpose is to organize and simulate a “military operation in defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia.”
The drills come less than two months before another NATO-led military exercise scheduled to take place in Armenia. It will reflect Yerevan’s desire to step up military cooperation with NATO and the United States in particular. As part of that “complementary” policy, it has deployed small military contingents in Kosovo and Iraq and is considering joining the NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.
“I am absolutely calm about that,” Bordyuzha told journalists when asked about Armenia’s growing security links with the West. “Every state is free to organize its relations with various international organizations and alliances.”
“This is normal for any state,” he said at the opening ceremony of the CSTO exercises. “Especially for Armenia which has declared complementarity a foreign policy priority.”
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian similarly insisted that the planned NATO exercise will not undermine Russian-Armenian military ties. “We are a CSTO member state and are holding a military exercise within that framework,” he told RFE/RL. “As for NATO, we are cooperating with it.”
Armenia’s official military doctrine unveiled last December states that Yerevan will increasingly work together with the armed forces of NATO member states in reforming its military and contributing to international security. It specifically commits the Armenian military to expanding its involvement in Western-led peace-keeping operations abroad.
But the doctrine makes it clear that “strategic partnership” with Russia will remain the bedrock of Armenia’s defense policy. It says the two countries will continue to maintain close military ties both on a bilateral basis and within the CSTO framework.