Defense Minister Suren Papikyan met with Indian Defense Minister Shri Rajnath Singh

By Artak Khulian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Armenia appeared to boycott on Thursday, May 25, a regular meeting of the defense ministers of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states, highlighting its deepening rift with the Russian-led military alliance.

The Armenian Defense Ministry gave no reason for Defense Minister Suren Papikian’s failure to attend the meeting held in Belarus’ capital, Minsk.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and other Armenian officials have repeatedly accused Russia and other ex-Soviet states of making up the alliance of not fulfilling their obligation to defend Armenia against Azerbaijani attacks.

Pashinyan said earlier that he will pull his country out of the alliance “if we conclude that the CSTO has left Armenia.” The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, claimed to be bemused by his remarks while warning of their potentially “dangerous” consequences.

Pashinyan hit back at Zakharova later on Wednesday, saying that she “cannot be my interlocutor.”

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“My interlocutors are the president and the prime minister of the Russian Federation,” he told the Armenian parliament. “Even the Foreign Ministry spokesperson of a friendly and respected country like Russia cannot comment on my statements. She should just take note of my statements.”

Earlier this year, Yerevan canceled a CSTO military exercise planned in Armenia. The drills are due to be held in Kyrgyzstan soon. It is not clear whether Armenian soldiers will take part in them.

Speaking at the Minsk meeting, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stressed the “importance” of Armenia’s participation in such events.

“Armenia is a member of our organization, our ally,” said Shoigu. “We are … doing everything to stabilize the situation in the South Caucasus.”

Shoigu also reaffirmed Russia’s and other CSTO members’ readiness to send monitors to Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. Echoing statements by other Russian officials, he claimed that the recent launch of such a monitoring mission by the European Union is part of the West’s efforts to drive Russia out of the region.

Pashinyan’s government has rejected the proposed CSTO mission on the grounds that the alliance has not condemned the “Azerbaijani aggression” against Armenia. It has given the same reason for refusing “military-technical assistance” offered by Armenia’s CSTO allies last fall.

Armenian opposition leaders have expressed serious concern over Yerevan’s estrangement from the CSTO, saying that it could further aggravate security challenges facing the country.

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