Armenian officials are also to blame for a Russian military exercise that scared residents of a village in the northwestern Shirak province, Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said on Sunday.
His remarks contrasted with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s furious reaction to the July 17 exercise held by Russian troops in and around the village of Panik. The sound of gunfire and explosions terrified many local residents, who were not notified about the drill beforehand.
Pashinian condemned the incident as a “provocation against Armenia’s sovereignty” when he spoke at a July 19 cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Tonoyan sounded more cautious during a weekend visit to Panik where he met with local government officials and the commander of a Russian military base stationed in Armenia, Colonel Vladimir Yelkanov. He spoke of “mistakes committed by both the Russian side and the Armenian side.”
“I officially declare that one day before [the exercise] the Russian side informed [Armenian officials] about the movement of a military column and said that there will be a training exercise without specifying the site of the training,” Tonoyan told reporters after the meeting. “From the legal standpoint, it had to coordinate.”
“But they have admitted their mistake and officially apologized and we have already drawn conclusions, as a result of which there will be greater coordination,” he said.
The minister added that not only the Russians but also the Armenian side is investigating the incident. “As regards the Armenian side, internal inquiries are being conducted in our agencies with the aim of identifying the guilty,” he said without going into details.
Panik is located close to one of the two shooting grounds used by the Russian base headquartered in Gyumri, the administrative center of Shirak.
The base has up to 5,000 soldiers mainly deployed along Armenia’s closed border with Turkey as well as tanks, armored vehicles, artillery systems and MiG-29 fighter jets. Moscow has bolstered the base with helicopter gunships and other military hardware since a 2010 Russian-Armenian agreement extended its basing rights in Armenia to 2044.
Successive Armenian governments have regarded the Russian military presence in Armenia as a key element of the country’s national security strategy.