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Moscow Extends Lease on Armenian Base

Critics say security partnership serves Russian aims far more than Armenian interests.
By Arpi Makhsudyan
  • The presidents of Russia and Armenia presidents (centre) attend a ceremony on August 20 at which their defence ministers sign an agreement extending the Russian lease on a military base in Armenia. (Photo: Azat Gevorgyan)
    The presidents of Russia and Armenia presidents (centre) attend a ceremony on August 20 at which their defence ministers sign an agreement extending the Russian lease on a military base in Armenia. (Photo: Azat Gevorgyan)

After a deal was signed allowing Russia to maintain a military base in Armenia until 2044, opposition politicians in the Caucasian state accused their government of compromising national sovereignty.

An agreement extending the lease on the Gyumri base was signed on August 20 while Russian president Dmitry Medvedev was visiting Armenia.

“We definitely have a strategic, comradely relationship, which is founded on real national and state interests for Armenia, and I hope also for Russia,” Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said afterwards.

The terms of the new arrangement appear to expand the remit of the Russian contingent, so that it can act to defend Armenia’s national security as well as in Moscow’s interests.

Some Armenians are questioning the value of this close security relationship, and believe Moscow is less interested in partnership than in pursuing its own geopolitical agenda in the South Caucasus.

At the same time as it strengthens security ties with Yerevan, Moscow is reported to be negotiating the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan, with which Armenia’s relationship has been frosty since the war in Nagorny Karabakh in the early Nineties.

Opposition politicians said the agreement went too far, and there was no need to extend the lease beyond the earlier 25-year arrangement which was due to run out in 2020.

“I’m at a loss to say how effective this will be for Armenia’s security,” Stepan Safaryan, a member of parliament from the opposition Heritage party said. “It is, however, clear that extending the agreement and broadening the remit of the Russian military base are a threat to Armenia’s independence, and deprive it of opportunities to decide its own foreign policy.”

Safaryan suggested that the speed with which the deal was reached was connected with Russia’s desire to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan, and the consequent need to placate its Armenian ally.

Ruben Mehrabyan, an analyst with the Armenian Centre for Political and International Investigations, agreed, saying his country had gained nothing while giving away extensive new powers to Russia.

“Armenia was always something of a laboratory experiment for Russia, and this agreement is no exception. It has nothing to do with Armenian security,” he said.

The fact that news of the planned sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan appeared in the respected Russian daily Vedomosti on July 29, only a day before the Interfax news agency reported plans to extend the lease on the Gyumri base, raised suspicions that the two deals were linked.

Giro Manoyan of the Dashnaktsutyun opposition party said Moscow was bolstering its position in the South Caucasus by both selling missiles to Azerbaijan and expanding its military presence in Armenia.

Armenian government representatives have focused on the positive aspects of the agreement.

“Every independent state chooses its own methods of ensuring its security in the most effective manner. It follows that the changes to this [lease] document serve the higher interests of state security,” Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, an expert with the defence ministry’s Institute for National Strategic Studies said.

Eduard Sharmazanov of the governing Republican Party suggested that the deal placed the country in a stronger position as it was a demonstration of Russian and Armenian intentions to build a strategic partnership.

The existence of this relationship, he said, would “effectively rule out” any attempt to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force.

Sharmazanov downplayed the reported missile sale to Azerbaijan, saying it was a purely commercial deal and Armenians need not worry about it.

Arpi Makhsudyan is a journalist with the Capital newspaper.

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