By Nane Atshemian
Armenians are increasingly gravitating towards NATO, with public opinion now split down the middle on whether Armenia should join the U.S.-led alliance or stick to close military ties with Russia, according an opinion poll released on Friday.
Pollsters from the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank, said 34.7 percent of 1,500 people randomly interviewed by them across the country supported Armenian membership in NATO. A slightly smaller proportion of respondents, 33.9 percent, opposed the idea, while the remaining 31.4 percent were undecided, according to the survey.
Its reported findings are the latest indication of a pro-Western shift in Armenian public opinion that has traditionally been oriented toward Russia. Many Armenians still feel that the military alliance with Russia offsets a perceived security threat from Turkey, their historic foe and a key NATO member.
ACNIS experts said public support for joining NATO has clearly increased in the past year. Their findings are in tune with another survey conducted by the Vox Populi polling organization last October. It showed 29 percent of respondents saying that Yerevan should primarily rely NATO for safeguarding its national security.
The ACNIS poll found that the most common argument of NATO membership supporters was that the Western alliance represents “the most effective security system” in the world. Others believe that regional stability requires Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to be part of the same military structure.
The survey also suggests that most Armenians consider U.S. policies on Armenia to be either “good” or “satisfactory.” At the same time almost 60 percent of those polled believe that Russia continues to exercise the greatest external influence on their country.
The Armenian authorities have stepped up their participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in recent years. But they say Yerevan will continue to deepen cooperation with NATO as long as it does not interfere with its military and security ties with Moscow.