“As well as rebuilding our armed forces we must also try to modernize the Russian military presence here,” Kocharian, who now leads an opposition alliance running in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, said during a campaign trip to northwestern Shirak province bordering Turkey.
“This can and must be done especially considering ongoing developments in this region,” he told supporters in the town of Artik. “We can see Turkey’s growing role, it’s very obvious. And it’s also obvious that … the only country that can deter the Turkish expansion is Russia.”
“For that reason, we need to start a very serious process with Russia to strengthen their military presence here,” he said.
The Russian military presence has already been expanded following last autumn’s Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has specifically deployed soldiers and border guards in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province to help the Armenian military defend the region against possible Azerbaijani attacks.
Syunik borders Iran as well as districts southwest of Nagorno-Karabakh which were retaken by Azerbaijan during and after the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.
Turkey provided crucial military and political support to Azerbaijan during the fighting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan underlined the very close ties between the two states when he visited the Azerbaijani-controlled Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) on Tuesday. Erdogan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev signed there an agreement on “mutual military assistance.”
Earlier this year, Kocharian described Turkey as the number one security threat to Armenia. He also made a case for his country “deeper integration” with Russia, saying that only Moscow can help Armenia rebuild its armed forces.
“Along with the Russian military base [in Armenia] we must also increase our weight and military might so that they reckon with us more,” the 66-year-old ex-president, whose Hayastan bloc is one of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s main election challengers, said on Wednesday.
“We used to be a factor but have now become an appendage. We must do everything to again become a factor in the region,” he said.
Pashinian has also vowed to deepen Russian-Armenian ties. He stated in April that the Russian military presence is vital for Armenia’s national security and should become stronger soon.