A major Armenian opposition party expressed concern on Tuesday over Armenia’s new military accord with Russia, saying that it has raised serious questions relating to the country’s national security.
Leaders of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party questioned Armenian officials’ claims that the deal commits Russia to openly siding with Armenia in the event of another war with Azerbaijan. They also denounced Moscow’s reported plans to sell sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan.
“The mechanisms for how Artsakh (Karabakh) can be protected with this agreement are totally unclear,” said Ruben Hakobian, Zharangutyun’s deputy chairman. “Maybe there are mechanisms we don’t know of yet. Maybe the authorities know them but won’t tells us for the moment.”
“But as things stand now, the document signed by the [Russian and Armenian] presidents does not answer this question,” he told a news conference, referring to amendments to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia.
Under those amendments, the base will remain in Armenian territory for 24 more years, until 2044, and play a more important role in the country’s security. According to top representatives of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party, this means the Russians would join Armenia in fighting back a possible Azerbaijani attack on Azerbaijan.
Russian leaders have made no public statements to that effect, however. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that the new agreement does not envisage a serious change in the mission of the Russian troops stationed in Armenia.
Hakobian and Zharangutyun’s parliamentary leader, Stepan Safarian, also questioned the rationale for extending the lease on the Russian base, which was due to expire in 2020, now. “This is not in Armenia’s interests,” said Safarian. Hakobian, for his part, spoke of mutual distrust between Moscow and Yerevan.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), a larger and more influential opposition force, likewise claimed on Monday that the Kremlin had Russian military presence in Armenia extended because it does not regard the Sarkisian administration as a “long-term and reliable partner.” Nonetheless, the HAK’s reaction to the Russian-Armenian deal was largely positive.
Like the HAK, the Zharangutyun leaders expressed serious concern at reports about the planned sale of Russian S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan. They said Armenia should consider pulling out of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) if the deal goes through.
“If Russia really completes this sale to Azerbaijan, then it itself will place Armenia out of the field of strategic partnership and the CSTO,” Safarian told journalists.