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Armenia could facilitate a dialogue between its closest ally Russia and NATO if tensions between them continue to mount, according to Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian.

Sargsian defended his country’s growing cooperation with NATO as he spoke at a special session of Russia’s Valdai International Discussion Club held in Yerevan on Saturday.

“Nothing is happening there secretly or behind the scenes. In particular, Armenia considers very important participation in [NATO-led] peacekeeping missions,” he said when asked by a prominent Russian analyst about the future of Armenia-NATO ties in the light of Russia’s standoff with the West.

“Even if we proceed from the assumption that things will be very bad and all relationships will eventually descend into a black-and-white picture of the world and there will be a totally insurmountable gap between NATO and [the area] east of Vienna, it would be especially good for Russia to have an understandable, transparent and predictable partner that could be a channel for dialogue,” added the U.S.-educated minister.

Germany - Armenian soldiers participate in U.S.-led military exercises in Hohenfels in April 2016.
Germany - Armenian soldiers participate in U.S.-led military exercises in Hohenfels in April 2016.

Despite its close military alliance with Russia, Armenia has stepped up defense cooperation with NATO -- and the United States in particular -- since the early 2000s. It currently contributes around 130 troops to NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and regularly participates in multinational exercises organized by U.S. forces in Europe.

President Serzh Sarkisian underscored these ties when he met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels late last month. Stoltenberg said they spoke about “how we can take that partnership further.” He also announced that NATO and Armenia will adopt soon a new “individual partnership action plan.”

Sargsian made clear that the military alliance remains the bedrock of Armenia’s national security strategy. Echoing statements by other Armenian leaders, he said a perceived security threat from NATO member Turkey is the main reason why Armenia hosts a Russian military base on its territory.

“The signing several weeks ago of an agreement on the joint Russian-Armenian military force and the presence of the Russian military base in Armenia are a serious response to Turkey’s possible threats in the region and its involvement in certain processes taking place in the South Caucasus,” Sargsian told members of the Valdai Club.

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