YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia has denied the widely held view that amendments planned in its defense agreement with Armenia involve changes in the functions of its military base stationed in the South Caucasus country.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, no change should be expected in the way the base functions after the document is signed on Friday.
In an interview given to Armenian Public Television before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Armenia, Russia’s top diplomat said the protocol to the existing treaty with Armenia pursues the goal of getting “a perspective in time”.
The signing of the protocol is high on the agenda of Medvedev’s two-day state visit to Armenia, which also overlaps with an unofficial summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of seven former Soviet states, to be hosted by Yerevan.
Corresponding amendments to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia will allow Russia to maintain a base in Armenia for another 24 years, until 2044, and advance its troops headquartered in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri closer to the border with Turkey. According to a relevant “protocol” submitted to Medvedev by the Russian government, besides “performing functions on defending the interests of the Russian Federation,” the Russian military base, “together with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia ensures the security of Armenia.” The document also commits Russia to supplying its regional ally with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.”
The move is likely to cause concern in neighboring Azerbaijan, which has an unresolved conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In the same interview, Lavrov in essence, stopped short of denying reports of Moscow selling S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s military archrival in the region. Further, the Russian minister downplayed the impact that such actions would have on the situation in the region.
“Let’s not forget what S-300 anti-aircraft systems are. They are defensive weapons designed to protect a territory from external missiles. We never supply arms to regions where such supplies may destabilize the situation. Defensive weapons may cause problems with those who plan to use force. I believe that no state in the region plans to launch new military operations, because it would be catastrophic,” said Lavrov.