YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s military and political alliance with Russia does not prevent it from forging closer security ties with the United States, Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, insisted on Friday.
“No, there is no such obstacle,” he said. “The cooperation between the United States and Armenia in this area has moved forward and deepened in recent years. This shows Armenia’s ability to work with all of its neighbors and contribute to international security.”
Mills argued that Armenia’s defense ties with Russia and the West should not be seen as a zero-sum game. “The question is just that we ensure that Armenia makes its own decisions about who it wants to have military and security relations with,” he said.
Armenia has stepped up defense cooperation with the U.S. and other NATO member states since the early 2000s. It currently contributes troops to NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and regularly participates in multinational exercises organized by the Western alliance. U.S. military assistance to Armenia has totaled about $50 million since 2002.
Mills spoke to reporters after watching a joint exercise held by Armenian fire-rescue teams, officers of the Kansas National Guard and a British army unit at a training center in Lusakert, central Armenia. Armenian Minister of Emergency Situations Minister Davit Tonoyan, the Kansas adjutant general, Major General Lee Tafanelli, and British Ambassador Judith Farnworth were also in attendance.
The exercise followed a ten-day training course held by the U.S. and British military personnel for Armenian firefighters and rescue workers. It focused on techniques of providing first aid and neutralizing hazardous materials.
Tonoyan stressed that his ministry is cooperating with both Russia and Western nations. “Responses to emergency situations are an apolitical sphere all over the world and we will keep going down that path,” he said after the drill. “Natural disasters and emergencies do not recognize borders and geopolitics.”