By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia will not reconsider its military cooperation with NATO despite mounting tensions between the U.S.-led alliance and Russia over the conflict in Georgia, the Defense Ministry in Yerevan said on Wednesday.
NATO has strongly criticized Russia, Armenia’s closest military ally, for its massive military campaign in Georgia that followed Tbilisi’s ill-fated attempt to retake South Ossetia. It has also condemned Moscow’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states.
The Kremlin has responded by freezing military cooperation and cutting diplomatic contacts with NATO. The Russian ambassador at the NATO headquarters in Brussels was recalled for consultations last week.
Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian, a spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, told RFE/RL that Armenia’s cooperation programs with NATO have not been affected by the growing acrimony that has fueled talk of another “cold war” between Russia and the West. “There have been no changes in our cooperation with NATO,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”
Shahsuvarian made clear that Armenian peace-keeping troops will continue to serve in Kosovo and Iraq as part of multinational forces led by NATO and the United States respectively.
As recently as in June, the number of Armenian soldiers deployed in the former Serbian province since early 2004 was doubled to 70. Armenia also sent about 50 non-combat military personnel in Iraq later in 2004. It went on to sign an “individual partnership action plan,” or IPAP, with NATO a year later.
The deployments and the launch of IPAP underscored Yerevan’s desire to complement its military alliance with Moscow with closer defense and security links with the West. Those ties will also be highlighted by a NATO-led military exercises that are scheduled to take place in Armenia from September 29 through October 21. More than a thousand soldiers representing 21 nations, including the U.S. and Georgia, are expected to practice joint military operations.
Shahsuvarian said the drills will go ahead despite the uncertain security situation in Georgia. “Armenia is preparing for the NATO exercises,” he said. “Everything is going according to plan.”
Armenia already hosted similar NATO-led exercises in June 2003.