By Hrach Melkumian
General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, held talks in Yerevan on Tuesday with Armenia’s political and military leaders at the start of a two-day visit, which officials said will focus on ways of deepening defense links between the two countries.
Kvashnin, accompanied by a large group of top Russian army officers, met with President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his Armenian opposite number, General Mikael Harutiunian. The press office of the Armenian defense ministry said the two sides reviewed their plan of joint activities for this year and discussed “effective ways of developing bilateral military cooperation.”
The Russian general will visit on Wednesday the headquarters of the Russian military base in Armenia, located in the northern city of Gyumri. Officials said he will inspect, in particular, its air-defense capabilities. Russia deployed two dozen MiG-29 jet fighters and a brigade of sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missiles in Armenia two years ago to beef up the southern flank of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST).
It is not clear whether Kvashnin’s visit is related to the forthcoming US retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan. US warplanes deployed at the Incirlik base in neighboring Turkey are reportedly involved in the ongoing American military build-up in Central and Southern Asia.
Kvashnin said Moscow did not object to Armenia’s decision to open its airspace to US military aircraft bound for the region. He also ruled out the participation of Russian troops in the US-led anti-terrorist campaign.
The former Soviet republics of Central Asia, most of whom are signatories to the CST, have expressed readiness to assist in the anticipated military action. Russia, which is strongly opposed to any long-term American military presence in the former USSR, is thought to have approved the move.