Armenia’s new defense agreement with Russia will not reflect negatively on its growing cooperation with NATO, a senior official from the Western alliance said on Wednesday.
Robert Simmons, NATO’s special representative to the South Caucasus, also announced in Yerevan that President Serzh Sarkisian has been invited to an upcoming NATO summit in Portugal.
The agreement extending and upgrading Russian military presence in Armenia was signed on August 20 more than one month after the Armenian government publicly pledged to “draw closer to the Alliance” through fresh defense reforms.
Commenting on NATO’s reaction to the pact, Simmons said, “I have always said that we recognize that Armenia is a member of the [Collective Security Treaty Organization] and has thus an alliance with Russia and other members of CSTO. And that includes a [military] presence on your territory, which we have never criticized.”
“The [Armenian] government has made equally clear that they are interested in developing their relations and partnership with NATO,” he told a news conference. “So these two things are balanced and one doesn’t make the other more difficult. And we’ve never said that it’s a zero sum game and that you can have one but not the other.”
The remarks were in tune with U.S. reaction to the Russian-Armenian accord that was voiced by a State Department spokesman late last month. The official, Mark Toner, said Washington expects to continue its “strong partnership with Armenia.”
The accord sealed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan extended Russia’s lease on a military base in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044, and enhanced its role in the country’s national security. It also commits the Russians to supplying the Armenian military with more modern weaponry.
The deal followed the publication in early July of a recently revised version of Armenia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO. The document affirms Yerevan’s intention to “intensify practical and political co-operation with NATO” and details additional reforms of its armed forces to be implemented in the coming years. The reforms are meant to bring the Armenian army into greater conformity with the NATO standards and practices.
The original IPAP was launched in 2005, highlighting Armenia’s desire to complement its military alliance with Russia with closer security links with the West. More than 110 Armenian troops are currently participating in the NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Simmons called that participation “very significant.” “Because you are a contributor to [the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan] the president [Sarkisian] has been invited already to the NATO summit which will be held in November in Lisbon,” he said. “And at that summit we will approve a new strategic concept for the alliance.”
“We are looking forward to this meeting, which will be a key meeting with partners on Afghanistan but also on their views on the strategic concept and particularly how the strategic concept describes our partnership with countries like Armenia,” added the NATO official.
Simmons spoke to journalists before monitoring a NATO-led disaster relief exercise currently held near Yerevan. The drills, which began on Sunday, involve 700 rescue workers from 28 NATO member and partner states simulating a joint response to a powerful earthquake.
Simmons met with Sarkisian later in the day. The Armenian president was quoted by his office as stressing the importance of the exercise and the NATO support for the Armenian defense reforms.