Armenian and American servicemen speak during the joint Eagle Partner peacekeeping exercise in Armenia in September 2023. (Photo: Fort Drum & 10th Mountain Division, t.ly/u6gas, public domain)

US to Help Armenia Modernize its Military

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By Ani Avetisyan

Only a few years ago, the idea seemed unimaginable: the United States is planning to give considerable military assistance to Armenia, Russia’s not-so-long-ago strategic partner. But times have changed, and Washington is treading cautiously as it works to erase a geopolitical red line in the Caucasus.

The Armenian government started distancing itself politically and economically from Russia after experiencing a crushing defeat at the hands of the Azerbaijani military in Nagorno-Karabakh. The widespread feeling in Yerevan was that the Kremlin failed to fulfill its security commitments to Armenia. The European Union and the United States have been quick to respond to Armenian feelers for closer security and economic ties. In early April, the EU and US came up with a combined assistance offering of over $350 million for Yerevan.

Following up on that meeting, US Ambassador to Armenia Kristina Kvien provided an overview of rapidly expanding US-Armenian relations in an April 10 interview with the Armenian Service of RFE/RL, saying that Washington’s contacts with Yerevan ”in just about every sector have expanded and deepened” over the past year.

That includes military cooperation. “We’ve had significant expansion on this theme in the last year,” Kvien noted, pointing to the joint US-Armenian military exercises in early September in Armenia. The envoy also said an American military “advisor” would soon work with the Armenian Defense Ministry to implement capacity-building reforms promoting “modern standards” in planning and operations.

“Armenia is interested in expanding its participation in things like peacekeeping and other peaceful endeavors,” Kvien said. “We’re talking about all sorts of different things, and we’re trying to see where we can be helpful to Armenia in terms of its defense.”

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Many aspects of US-Armenian military cooperation remain to be finalized. But Kvien said the two countries “have already agreed on a couple things.” One that she revealed was that the United States has agreed to an Armenian request to supply armored ambulances. The two sides are currently discussing a delivery timetable.

Russia and Azerbaijan responded vituperatively to the April 5 announcement of the EU-US aid package to Armenia. Speaking recently in the Armenian parliament, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sought to assuage Russia, stating that enhanced economic and security cooperation with the West should not be interpreted as being targeted against Armenia’s “regional relations in any way.”

Kvien sought to amplify that reassuring message. The price of US help does not include a requirement that Armenia sever all connections with Russia, the ambassador indicated.

“Our view is… that the more friends, partners, allies you have, the more trade partners you have, the more export markets you have, the stronger you are, because that means no single country can hold you hostage to those relationships,” Kvien said. “So what we’re trying to do is work with Armenia in areas that Armenia has identified to help it diversify its contacts, not cut off one or the other, but diversify.”

(This article originally appeared on www.eurasianet.org on April 16.)

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