Leaders of and Russia and four for other former Soviet republics converged on Yerevan Thursday for the summit of their loose defense alliance. Tight security measures were in place as motorcades of the five presidents, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, raced through the city center. Police vehicles patrolled the 10-kilometer highway linking the Zvartnots airport to the capital. The road was closed to traffic for much of the day.
Kocharian welcoming Putin at Yerevan airport
The signatories of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty (CST) -- which also include Armenia Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- will on Friday hold a one-day session aimed at giving a new boost to their military cooperation. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev arrived in Yerevan on Wednesday, starting a two-day official visit preceding the summit.
Putin, the first Russian president to visit Armenia since 1991, met his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian shortly after his arrival from the flood-stricken eastern Siberia. The two men discussed bilateral relations and the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Kocharian's press service said. They "exchanged thoughts" on the recent developments in the Karabakh peace process, it said without elaborating.
Armenia and Russia, which have maintained close military links since the break-up of the Soviet Union, will use the summit to formalize their decision to form a joint military contingent to be deployed near Armenia's border with Turkey within the CST framework. Armenian officials have said the joint unit could have up to 10,000 soldiers and over a hundred pieces of military hardware.
The summit will also approve plans for the creation of a "rapid reaction force" to counter what the treaty's signatories see as an Islamist threat to the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia. Armenia and Belarus will not commit troops for the force. The six leaders will issue a joint statement expressing their intention to strengthen CST structures that are still taking shape.
The treaty was originally singed in 1992 by nine out of twelve members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Three of them -- Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan -- refused to renew their participation in the joint defense framework two years ago on the grounds that it had proved ineffective and too dependent on Russia.
According to Andranik Migranian, a leading Russian political analyst, the Putin administration has opted for a more "differentiated" and "pragmatic" policy on the CIS and no longer seeks to pressurize those ex-Soviet states that are not willing to develop military cooperation with the Russia. The Kremlin is instead concentrating its efforts on more pro-Russian member states, Migranian told RFE/RL in an interview.
Hrach Melkumian, Artur Terian in Moscow