Armenia’s parliament appears to have postponed the ratification of a Russian-Armenian agreement to create a new system of joint air defense that has been criticized some opposition politicians and commentators in Yerevan.
The Russian and Armenian militaries have been jointly protecting Armenia’s airspace ever since the mid-1990s as part of a defense alliance binding the two countries. The agreement in question, signed last December, would deepen that arrangement through the creation of a Russian-Armenian “united regional system of air defense.”
The air-defense system would cover “the Caucasian region” presumably encompassing southern Russia, Armenia and adjacent territory in the South Caucasus. It will be led by the commander of Russia’s Southern Military District and “coordinated” by the Russian Air Force chief.
Armenian critics say this provision poses a threat to Armenia’s independence and even security. Some of them also claim that Yerevan is placing Armenian airspace under Russian control.
The Armenian Defense Ministry issued last week a special statement aimed at allaying those fears. It said that an Armenian army general will be in charge of all air-defense forces deployed within Armenia.
Those include the anti-aircraft weaponry as well as MiG-29 fighter jets of the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri. The ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, insisted on Tuesday that the Armenian side will have a final say on their use in case of serious violations of Armenia’s airspace.
The Armenian parliament’s foreign relations committee formally approved the agreement on June 3, paving the way for its discussion on the parliament floor. The National Assembly was widely expected to debate and vote on the accord at an extraordinary session that began on Monday. It emerged, however, that the issue is not included on the session’s agenda.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied on Monday that the agreement’s ratification has been delayed, saying that it was the Armenian media, rather than the government that expected a debate this week.
Baghdasarian would not say when the debate will take place. “We will let you know when necessary,” he told reporters.
Some commentators attribute the apparent postponement to friction between Moscow and Yerevan that followed the April 2-5 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the authorities in Yerevan for erecting late last month a statue of an Armenian nationalist statesman who collaborated with Nazi Germany. HHK representatives rejected the criticism.
Armenian leaders publicly charged earlier that the Azerbaijani offensive in Karabakh was made possible by recent years’ large-scale Russian arms sales to Baku.
There have also been suggestions that President Serzh Sarkisian has decided to delay the parliamentary ratification of the air-defense deal until after his upcoming meeting in Russia with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to mediate the talks.