Russia has denied the widely held view that amendments planned in its defense agreement with Armenia imply a change in the functions of its military base stationed in the South Caucasus country.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, no change should be expected in the base’s functions in the territory of Armenia after the signing of the document due on Friday.
In an interview given to Armenian Public Television ahead of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Armenia scheduled to begin on Thursday, Russia’s top diplomat said the protocol to the existing treaty with Armenia pursues the goal of getting “a perspective in time”.
The signing of the protocol is high on the agenda of Medvedev’s two-day state visit to Armenia, which also overlaps with an unofficial summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of seven former Soviet states, to be hosted by Yerevan.
Corresponding amendments to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia will extend Russia’s basing rights by 24 years, to 2044, and upgrade the mission of its troops headquartered in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri close to the border with Turkey. According to a relevant “protocol” submitted to Medvedev by the Russian government, besides “performing functions on defending the interests of the Russian Federation,” the Russian military base also “jointly with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia ensures the security of the Republic of Armenia.” The document also commits Russia to supplying its regional ally with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.”
The move is likely to cause concern in neighboring Azerbaijan, which has an unresolved conflict with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Lavrov’s statement made within the framework of the Realpolitik program aired by the Armenian TV on August 18, contrasts with the view held by a large number of politicians and pundits in Armenia that the document introduces changes in the functions of the Russian military base in Armenia and will thus discourage Azerbaijan from attempting to resolve the conflict by force.
In the same interview the Russian foreign minister, in essence, stopped short of denying reports about Moscow’s selling S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s military archrival in the region. Further, the Russian minister downplayed the impact of such a possible deal on the situation in the region.
Political and expert circles in Yerevan have been uneasy about the plans that first transpired in media reports late last month given Baku’s increased war rhetoric and statements by Azeri leaders in which they do not rule out a military scenario of reestablishing control over Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories, which Azerbaijan lost to local ethnic Armenians in the 1991-1994 war.
Internationally mediated talks between Yerevan and Baku, in which Russia acts as a main negotiator along with the United States and France, have not led to any significant success on reaching a settlement agreement in the past decade and a half.
“Let’s not forget what S-300 anti-aircraft systems are. They are defensive weapons designed to protect a territory from external missiles. We never supply arms to regions where such supplies may destabilize the situation. Defensive weapons may cause problems with those who plan to use force. I believe that no state in the region plans to launch new military operations, because it would be catastrophic,” said Lavrov.
Commenting on Lavrov’s statements, Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), emphasized that the Russian foreign minister has made a “diplomatic statement” about the Russian military base in Armenia, trying to “maintain regional balance” and “to show that this military base is not directed against anyone in the region.”
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Thursday, the HHK spokesman also said that Lavrov “neither confirmed, nor denied the information” about the sale of S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Azerbaijan. What is important, according to Sharmazanov, is that Lavrov rules out the possibility of renewed hostilities in the region.
Meanwhile, the foreign policy spokesman for the country’s main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) believes that by selling the defensive weapons to Azerbaijan Russia disturbs the military balance of forces in the region and, most importantly, deprives Armenia of an opportunity to provide “an adequate response” should tensions in Karabakh escalate into war.
“By providing such systems to Azerbaijan they [Russia] will neutralize the adequate response of the Armenian sides [Armenia and Karabakh] in the event of an Azerbaijan aggression,” Vladimir Karapetian said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday.
The HAK representative added that Lavrov’s statement that no changes should be expected in the functions of the Russian military base in Armenia only shows that “official comments in Armenia do not correspond to the reality.”