By Hrach Melkumian and Armen Zakarian Russia will continue to deliver weapons and military hardware to Armenia "on privileged terms" and plans to modernize its military base there to further strengthen ties with its main regional ally–Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday.
Ending a two-day visit to Yerevan–Ivanov insisted that the ongoing arms supplies–which have long been protested by neighboring Azerbaijan–do not threaten regional stability as they stem from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty (CST) of several ex-Soviet states–including Armenia.
"The deliveries of certain units of weaponry and military hardware which Russia has been carrying out to Armenia as its CST ally do not destabilize the situation in the region because they have a purely defensive character," he told a joint news conference with Armenian counterpart Serge Sarkisian. He did not specify the type or quantity of the Russian-made military equipment–saying only that Armenia is buying it at a knockdown price in accordance with CST provisions.
The two ministers spoke after signing a joint action plan of the Russian and Armenian militaries for next year. They also signed another agreement that allocates more plots of land to the Russian army base headquartered in the northern city of Gyumri. The approximately 5,000 soldiers and officers serving there will now "feel more comfortable," Ivanov said–adding that the Armenian government will cover the Russian units’ utility expenses’ starting from January.
Ivanov also announced that the Russian military will soon start equipping its Armenia-based troops with unspecified "state-of-the-art" weapons and hardware. But he made it clear that the overall size of the military personnel will not increase as a result.
The Russian base was already significantly reinforced in 1999-2000 with the deployment of about two dozen MiG-29 fighter jets and S-300 air-defense missiles that can spot high-flying targets hundreds of kilometers away from Armenia’s airspace.
The Armenian government plans to increase its defense spending by almost 12 percent to 49.6 billion drams ($87 million) next year. The figure–though modest in absolute terms–makes up over 13 percent of total expenditures projected by the government’s draft 2004 budget. The Armenian military will thus remain the single largest recipient of public funds.
Senior legislators endorsed on Tuesday the proposed defense allocation.
Ivanov also met with President Kocharian who reinforced the necessity to strengthen bilateral military cooperation with Russia–and expand regional cooperation.