Armenia’s parliament debated on Wednesday the ratification of a new agreement with Russia which is meant to boost a joint Russian-Armenian military force that was created more than a decade ago.
The agreement on “the united group of troops” of the two countries was signed by the Russian and Armenian defense ministers in Moscow last November. It specifies the mission of the joint force comprising troops from the Russian military base in Armenia and the Armenian army’s Fifth Corps. Their main objective will be to “ensure military security in the region” and thwart or repel possible foreign aggressions against Armenia and Russia.
The accord, already ratified by Russia’s parliament, stipulates that the Russian-Armenian contingent will be led by a general appointed by the Armenian army’s commander-in-chief. He will be subordinate to the chief of the Armenian army staff in times of peace. But he could report to the head of Russia’s Southern Military District in case of a war or imminent aggression against either state.
Addressing lawmakers, Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian said the accord will serve as a new legal framework for a military force that that has existed for over 15 years.
“This contingent exists de facto. The president of the republic made this clear last year,” Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker, said during the debate. He said the deal is “logical” given Armenia’s military alliance with Russia and broader national security strategy.
Koryun Nahapetian, the pro-government chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security, also urged fellow lawmakers to ratify it. “Within the framework of this treaty we will increase our capabilities,” said Nahapetian. The Armenian side will specifically be able to make greater use of sophisticated Russian weaponry, he added without elaborating.
Deputies from Yelk, a pro-Western opposition alliance, dismissed these explanations, saying that Armenia will cede more of its sovereignty to Russia as a result.
One of them, Aram Sarkisian, said: “Our energy sector is under full Russian control. We have military agreements within the [Collective Security Treaty Organization] framework. We have provided our airspace, communications [to the Russians] … Why do we need this?”
Another Yelk deputy, Gevorg Gorgisian, expressed concern at a clause in the agreement saying that the Russian-Armenian force will also deal with “internal military threats.” He claimed that Moscow could use it to intervene in political processes in Armenia.
Zakarian ruled out such a scenario. “We are not talking about political actions or the political and social life of either country,” said the vice-minister. “Since the Middle East is now demonstrating what internal dangers can arise in one or another state, the treaty also envisages appropriate actions against internal military threats. Provided, of course, that the parties reach agreement on this issue.”
The parliament will vote on and almost certainly ratify the agreement on Thursday. Yelk is the only parliamentary force opposing the ratification. The bloc holds 9 seats in the 105-member legislature.