Russian soldiers handing out food in December near Idlib

Official Sanguine About West’s Reaction to Armenian Deployment In Syria

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A senior Armenian lawmaker expressed confidence on Monday, February 11, that Western powers will not rebuke Armenia for deploying military personnel to Syria with Russia’s support.

The Armenian Defense Ministry sent 83 medics, demining experts and other military personnel to the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, February 8. It said they will help civilians and clear landmines left behind from the continuing bloody conflict in the Arab state.

The ministry attributed the deployment to “the severe humanitarian situation” in Aleppo, “written requests from the Syrian side,” and the existence of an Armenian community in Syria.

Andranik Kocharyan, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, said that the thousands of ethnic Armenians in the war-ravaged city will now “feel safer.”

“Our Western partners will definitely understand this [deployment] because we are talking first and foremost about our [ethnic Armenian] compatriots living in Syria,” Kocharyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Armenia’s plans to send military personnel to Syria were first announced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in September following his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin held in Moscow.

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John Bolton, the US national security adviser, discussed the issue with Pashinyan and Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan when he visited Yerevan in October. Bolton warned them against sending combat troops to aid Syrian government forces or their allies.

The United States and the European Union have been very critical of the Russian military intervention in Syria which helped President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime gain the upper hand in the brutal civil war.

The Armenian deployment came as Tonoyan held talks in Moscow with Russia’s Defense.

Kocharyan claimed that the Armenian government itself initiated the dispatch of the sappers, medics and other servicemen tasked with protecting them. Russia is “naturally very happy” with their deployment, he said.

Meanwhile, a senior opposition lawmaker denounced the government for sending the contingent to Syria without consulting with the Armenian parliament.

“The authorities constantly talk about a transparent work style and increasing [the government’s] accountability. This action runs counter to that,” said Gevorg Gorgisyan of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK).

“Maybe [the deployment] was necessary,” said Gorgisyan. “But they should have talked about that. The National Assembly should have known why they are doing that.”

Gorgisyan also warned of the move’s possible negative “consequences” for Armenia’s relations with the US and the EU.

An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria and Aleppo in particular before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Most of them have since fled the country. Thousands of Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia.

Some commentators and critics of the Armenian government have suggested that Pashinyan decided to send military personnel to Syria in a bid to mitigate Russia’s discontent with some of his decisions and statements. Pashinyan allies have dismissed such speculation.

Ever since he came to power in May 2018, Pashinyan has repeatedly ruled out major changes in Armenia’s traditional foreign policy. He has specifically backed his country’s continued membership in Russian-led military and trade blocs.

For his part, Tonoyan was reported to praise Russia’s role in the “post-conflict reconstruction” of Syria. “And I think that our participation in this humanitarian operation is very important,” he added, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

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