Russia has had its military presence in Armenia extended by 24 years in order to protect its investments in massive commercial projects planned by the Armenian government, a leading member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) claimed on Wednesday.
A far-reaching agreement signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Armenia last week prolonged Russia’s lease on a military base headquartered in the northern city of Gyumri until 2044.
The fact that this was done ten years before the original expiry of the base’s mandate has raised eyebrows in Armenian opposition and expert circles. Two of the country’s main opposition forces have claimed that Moscow decided to secure a long-term Russian troop presence in the South Caucasus state now because its lacks faith in the Sarkisian administration.
But Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling HHK, spoke of primarily economic reasons for the move. “For Russia, this is also a guarantee of a [much higher] volume of [Russian-Armenian] economic relations that will soon become reality,” he told a news conference.
Sahakian pointed to the Russian government’s stated intention to partly finance the planned construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia and a railway linking it with neighboring Iran. “These projects are to be put into practice within about 10 years and exploited for another 10-15 years,” he said. “So I think that the 49-year period is connected with economic guarantees.”
Apart from sealing a new defense pact between their nations, Medvedev and Sarkisian also presided over the signing of an agreement to set up a Russian-Armenian joint venture tasked with building the new plant. Sergei Kirienko, the head of Russia’s Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom), said the Russian side is ready to provide up to one-fifth of an estimated $5 billion needed for the realization of the ambitious project.
In addition, Russian and Armenian officials said they will look into the possibility of Russian participation in the Armenian-Iranian railway project.