President Serzh Sarkisian attended and addressed on Thursday a NATO summit that was held in Wales amid the West’s deepening standoff with Russia, Armenia’s main ally, over the crisis in Ukraine.
The crisis is the main highlight of the two-day gathering, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accusing Russia of “attacking Ukraine.” U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of the 27 other members of the alliance discussed ways of supporting the embattled Ukrainian government.
Sarkisian’s office was careful to emphasize that the Armenian leader is attending the summit in his capacity as head of a partner state involved in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Accordingly, he focused on some 120 Armenian soldiers currently serving there under German command. In his speech, Sarkisian said the contingent rotated on a regular basis has gained “invaluable experience” in Afghanistan.
“I will single out Armenia’s productive cooperation with Germany, which is certainly a great example of interaction between NATO’s member and partner states,” Sarkisian said in a speech.
The Armenian president had not attended NATO summits since 2008. His decision to travel to Wales came at a delicate moment for Armenia, which is preparing to join a new alliance of ex-Soviet states led by a Russia increasingly at odds with Western powers.
Shortly after deciding to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan last year, Sarkisian and his government made clear that they will continue to deepen Armenia’s ties with NATO under an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) launched in 2004. Yerevan reaffirmed its stated commitment to the cooperation framework even after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis that led to Russia’s worst standoff with the West since the end of the Cold War.
In June, Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), stated that the Russian-led defense pact, of which Armenia is a member, has decided to freeze contacts with NATO because of the latter’s “blackmail” tactics. A senior Armenian official clarified afterwards that Bordyuzha’s statement applies to “organization-to-organization contacts,” rather than individual CSTO member states.
“Armenia has its own interests and decides its policy on various issues on its own,” Tevan Poghosian, an Armenian parliament deputy, said, commenting on Sarkisian’s participation in the NATO summit. Poghosian, who also leads the Armenian Atlantic Association, argued that NATO officials have not objected to Armenia’s membership in the Russian-dominated blocs.
Richard Giragosian, the head of the Yerevan-based Center for Regional Studies, described Sarkisian’s presence as a further sign that Armenia remains committed to stepping up cooperation with NATO. He said that with its “multi-vector security strategy” Yerevan is also telling Moscow not to take the Russian-Armenian alliance for granted.