Russia Extends Military Presence In Armenia through 2044

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YEREVAN (AFP) — Armenia and Russia signed a deal Friday extending the presence of Russian forces here by decades, bolstering Moscow’s military clout in the strategic South Caucasus region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Armenian counterpart Serge Sargisian oversaw the signing of the deal in Yerevan during a visit by the Russian leader.

The agreement will see Moscow extend its lease on a military base in Armenia from 2020 to 2044 and upgrade the mission of the estimated 3,000 Russian troops stationed there to include providing for Armenia’s security.

It also calls for Russia to assist Armenia in securing arms and modern military equipment.

Medvedev used the signing of the deal to signal that Russia still considers itself the leading power in the region.

“Russia’s task as the largest and most powerful state in the region… consists of maintaining peace and order,” he said.

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Asked if Russia would intervene in a conflict involving Armenia, Medvedev said: “Russia takes its obligations to its allies very seriously.”

Sargisian said the new agreement boosted Russia’s military role in the South Caucasus, a volatile region wedged between Russia, Iran and NATO member Turkey.

“Russia has taken on the obligation to jointly guarantee the military security of the republic of Armenia and to accordingly equip our armed forces with modern weaponry,” Sargisian said.

The deal “not only prolongs the presence of the Russian base in Armenia, but also expands the sphere of its geographic and strategic responsibility,” Sargisian said.

Armenian officials have said the deal will deter Azerbaijan from launching a new conflict over Karabagh. But analysts have said it is unclear whether Russia would intervene in a new war in the region, since the conflict would likely unfold in Karabagh and surrounding territories that are not part of Armenia.

At least 10 Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed in skirmishes over the region this year. Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to retake the region by force and in recent years has more than doubled its defense spending. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov said that despite the new deal Baku expected Moscow to stick by previous commitments that Russian forces in Armenia would not be used against Azerbaijan. He said Russia had made such commitments when it transferred forces from Georgian bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi to the base in Armenia between 2005 and 2007.

“We hope that Moscow will continue to adhere to these obligations,” he said.

As well as infantry and artillery units, the Russian base, in the Armenian city of Gumri near the border with Turkey, hosts S-300 missile defense systems and MiG-29 fighter jets.

Medvedev was in Armenia for a two-day bilateral visit and was to stay in the country over the weekend for an informal summit of leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led regional security group.

During his visit, accompanied by Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Medvedev visited the Tsitsernakaberd hill in Yerevan to lay a wreath at the memorial to the victims of the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, which Yerevan and about two dozen governments in the world regard as the first genocide of the 20th century. He also visited the Memory Park of the Tsitsernakaberd Complex where he planted a fir-tree during his official visit to Armenia in 2008.

On August 20, the presidents of Armenia and Russia held a private meeting, followed by talks with the participation of respective delegations. The two leaders also traveled to Gumri, where they participated in a ceremony inaugurating the Hill of Honor, a Russian military cemetery founded in the 19th century as the final resting place for many Russian soldiers killed in Russo-Turkish wars.