Armenia considering expansion of Russian military base
Armenia is considering allowing the expansion of the Russian military base located in the country, the country’s Minister of Defence Vagharshak Harutyunyan said on February 22.
“The military base is located in Gyumri, but, within the framework of the expansion project, it could be moved to the east of the country, closer to the border of Azerbaijan and Kelbadjar region, which Azerbaijan acquired as a result of the second Karabakh war”, Harutyunyan said.
Harutyunyan also announced that Armenia has begun to reform its army in joint efforts with the Russian military.
On top of that, Minister Harutyunyan said that Yerevan will continue to ensure the security of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as that of the transport communication link between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan (the route will partly run through Armenian territory).
Vagharshak Harutyunyan served as Defense Minister in 1999-2000. He was reappointed as head of the Ministry of Defense on November 20, 2020, following the end of the second Karabakh war and the resignation of Defense Minister David Tonoyan. In 2002, he joined the opposition Republic Party, after which President Robert Kocharian stripped him of his military rank. The rank of lieutenant general was returned to him by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in 2019.
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“The security of the population of Artsakh must be ensured by the defense forces”
Minister Harutyunyan said that Yerevan is counting on long-term peace in Karabakh thanks to joint efforts with Russia.
Harutyunyan added that Armenia will make sure that the security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh will be guaranteed by its own army:
“Of course, there is a lot to be done in terms of restoring its combat readiness and modernization, but whatever it is, it must be done.
Second, Armenia remains the guarantor of the security of the people of Artsakh, and we will never relinquish this historic mission.
The third and probably the most important thing, is, of course, the Russian military presence in the region, thanks to which it was first possible to achieve a ceasefire, and subsequently to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe”, said minister Harutyunyan in an interview with RIA News.
“No need for a second Russian military base”
“As for the deployment of an additional military base of the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, I think that this is not necessary. The current legal framework between our states determines the status and regulates the activities of only one Russian base”, minister Harutyunyan said.
Harutyunyan added that Armenia would, however, be open to the expansion of the already existing military base.
As per the 1995 interstate agreement, a Russian military base is deployed in Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri. On August 20, 2010, Russia and Armenia extended the term of the agreement until 2044.
Harutyunyan believes that it is more correct to talk about “the possibility of redeploying any military unit from the Russian military base (taking into account its expansion) to the eastern part of Armenia, and a corresponding joint study on the issue is underway”.
Armenia is reforming the army
Minister Harutyunyan said that military reforms are already being carried out in the Armenian army and “Russian colleagues are directly involved in this process”:
“Taking into account the combat experience and well-known events in Karabakh, we will radically revise and optimize the combat capability and numerical strength of our forces”.
The main efforts will be directed to the development of control systems, intelligence, electronic warfare, air defense and unmanned aircraft, missile forces and artillery.
Harutyunyan did not rule out the possibility of joint production of weapons with Russia:
“Armenian-Russian joint ventures are already functioning in Armenia, and further work in this direction is underway”.
Safety of transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan
When asked whether the Armenian army would be involved in the protection of the transport corridor from Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan, minister Harutyunyan replied that the use of the term “corridor” is incorrect in this case.
As per the trilateral ceasefire agreement signed in the fall of 2020 by the leaders of Armenia, Russia, and Azerbaijan, Lachinsky is the only corridor that ensures the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, while the other transport communications routes are still only in the discussion phase.
“Armenia, in accordance with its obligations, will ensure compliance with the safety requirements of the above-mentioned transport communication route. As per the question of whether the army will be charged with protecting it – is not currently worth it. The control over transport communication […] is entrusted to the forces of the border service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)”.
Armenia will continue to carry out peacekeeping mission in Syria
Vagharshak Harutyunyan also addressed Armenia’s participation in the peacekeeping mission in Syria:
“Our humanitarian mission, based on close cooperation with the Russian military, will certainly continue. I must note that even though we faced very difficult conditions during the autumn conflict in our region, we have not suspended our mission in Syria”.