Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian has approved of President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision to prolong Russia’s military presence in Armenia and his controversial policy of rapprochement with Turkey.
In an interview with the Russian daily “Moskovskie Novosti” published on Thursday, Ter-Petrosian said the Armenian government “certainly did the right thing” when it signed a new military agreement with Moscow last August.
The agreement, signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s August 2010 visit to Yerevan, extended Russia’s lease on a military base headquartered in Gyumri by 24 years, until 2044. It also upgraded the base’s role in contributing to Armenia’s security and committed Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry.
Ter-Petrosian has until now declined to personally pass judgment on the pact criticized by some of his political allies as well as media outlets loyal to his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance. They have said that it will make Armenia even more dependent on Russia.
Ter-Petrosian dismissed critics’ arguments that Russia pays no rent for the base. He said that the Russian base serves as a key guarantee of Armenia’s national security that precludes Turkey’s military intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “The fact of the existence of the base alone tells Turkey a lot,” added Armenia’s first president.
But the HAK leader, who himself formalized the Russian military presence during his 1991-1998 presidency, insisted that Moscow “is not obliged to defend the Armenian side” in case of renewed fighting for Karabakh.
“Many think that it is obliged, but that is a very dangerous delusion. There is no such obligation,” he said, dismissing claims to the contrary made by Armenian government officials and pro-government politicians.
Ter-Petrosian also dwelled on Sarkisian’s Western-backed efforts to normalize Armenia’s historically strained relations with Turkey. “He has done everything right and properly,” said the ex-president. “We have to always keep this topic on the agenda because without the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, without the opening of borders Armenia has no prospects for development.”
Ter-Petrosian at the same time again criticized Sarkisian for agreeing to the establishment of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians envisaged by of the two protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan in October 2009. He stood by his view that the very existence of such a body would make it easier for the Turks to deny that the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
“Apart from this problem, our position regarding the need to restore relations with Turkey fully coincides with Serzh Sarkisian’s,” he said.
In any case, continued Ter-Petrosian, Turkey will not agree to normalize ties with Armenia until a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. “And the issue of the commission [of historians] could simply be removed from the agenda after the Karabakh problem is solved,” he said.