The Eagle Partner 2023 exercise, scheduled for September 11-20, will reportedly involve 85 U.S. and 175 Armenian soldiers. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, they will simulate a joint peacekeeping operation in an imaginary conflict zone.
“Holding such exercises in the current situation does not contribute to the strengthening of stability and the atmosphere of trust in the region,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The planned drills were also criticized by three Russian deputy foreign ministers. One of them, Mikhail Galuzin, claimed that the drills are part of NATO’s efforts to lure Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbors into its “vicious zone of influence.”
“It is natural that we draw the attention of our partners to the fact that rapprochement with NATO would hardly have any positive results in terms of ensuring their own security", Galuzin told the official TASS news agency. "I am sure that the Armenian people, the Armenian public understand everything very well and will draw the right conclusions corresponding to Armenia's long-term security.”
Another vice-minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Armenia should instead participate in joint exercises with Russia and other allies making up the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Early this year, Yerevan cancelled a CSTO exercise which it was due to host this fall, underscoring its unhappiness with what Armenian leaders see as a lack of Russian and CSTO support for Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan.
The discontent is the main reason for growing tensions between Moscow and Yerevan. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian stoked them last week when he declared that his government is trying to “diversify our security policy” because Armenia’s reliance on Russia for defense and security has proved a “strategic mistake.” Pashinian also suggested that Russia will eventually “leave” Armenia and the South Caucasus in general. Moscow denounced his statements.
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovannisian downplayed the deepening rift between the two allied countries.
“We always have differences with all partners,” Hovannisian told journalists. “This doesn’t mean that they can be construed as tensions.”
For his part, Sargis Khandanian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations, defended Yerevan’s “sovereign decision” to host the joint drills with U.S. troops. “I think this [Russian criticism] is also a reaction to and a result of the deepening U.S.-Armenian relations,” he said.