A senior member of a parliamentary opposition party believes that the latest move of the government of Armenia to allow a wider Russian military presence in Armenian territory goes against the interests of the nation.
Syopa Safarian, a senior representative of the Heritage party who is also an expert on legal and political affairs with the Yerevan-based Armenian Center for National and International Studies, described the decision as “another step on the Russification of Armenia”.
“Unfortunately, it is not the interests of Armenia that are being pursued in this process,” the oppositionist commented in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
The Armenian government last week gave the formal green light to the deployment of about two dozen Russian combat helicopters that will significantly boost Russia’s military presence in Armenia. Two plots of land have been allocated to the Russian military base, which is mainly stationed in the northwestern city of Gyumri, in and near Yerevan’s Erebuni airport that will be used by a Russian helicopter squadron.
Safarian claimed that the kind of decision reflects the “obedient posturing” of the Armenian government in dealing with Russia.
“The Armenian authorities have completely failed to pursue independent policies. They have reached a point and taken the country to a degree when they can do nothing but obediently comply with whatever they are told, and at this moment, during these months, as we can see, Russia is the one that tells Armenia what to do,” he charged.
“The government of Armenia does not even care to try to preserve the country’s sovereignty at least nominally,” the oppositionist added.
Armenia’s former defense minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, meanwhile, has defended the move as a necessity to deal with the threat of a new war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The stronger the army is, the less likely the resumption of a new war will be,” Harutiunian said, talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.com).
He described it as inappropriate to speculate about possible losses of Armenia, since “we have ourselves asked Russia to deploy its military base here”.
“I myself participated in it by preparing and verifying the agreement on the [military] base. So, it was a political decision on the part of Armenia, which we implemented. Moreover, there were forces in Russia that were against it as they argued that in that case Russia would lose Azerbaijan,” said the former defense chief, who also emphasized that the steps that are being taken now only strengthen Armenia’s independence.
Plans for the deployment of Russian helicopter gunships in Armenia were first made public last month by Colonel Aleksandr Petrov, the commander of the aviation unit of the Russian base. Petrov said the Russian military also plans to modernize its 16 MiG-29 fighter jets stationed in Armenia.
Earlier, in June, Russian and Armenian officials announced that Russia will help Armenia expand its relatively small air force within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Later, Moscow also reportedly bolstered the base headquartered in Gyumri with Iskander-M ballistic missiles capable of striking targets up to 400 kilometers away.
According to some media reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to pay a visit to Armenia on December 2, plans to arrive directly in Gyumri and only then travel to Yerevan. A commentator with “Haykakan Zhamanak” opined in the Saturday issue of the pro-opposition daily that the kind of itinerary would amount to a strong message about Russia’s military presence being a top priority in its relations with Armenia.