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Armenia/Russia: Landmark Treaty Includes Provision For Mutual Defense

By Harry Tamrazian

Prague, 29 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia and Armenia today signed a landmark treaty on "friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance," which Russia's President Boris Yeltsin says could lead to a much deeper strategic partnership.

It would mark the first time in the post-Soviet era that Russia is committing itself by treaty to defend an ally militarily if attacked by a foreign country. The so-called "mutual assistance" is old Soviet terminology, which is taken to mean "mutual defense."

In practical terms, according to the treaty, an attack on Armenia would be considered an attack on Russia, and vice versa. In the past, the Soviet Union signed similar treaties with its Eastern European allies, as well as with some Mideastern countries, such as Syria.

The treaty, signed by Yeltsin and Armenia's President Levon Ter-Petrossian, still must be ratified by both countries' parliaments. Easy ratification is expected in both parliaments.

The treaty calls for Armenia and Russia to closely cooperate in defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of both countries. Armenia and Russia will also expand military cooperation between their armed forces. Each will immediately contact the other in case there is a threat of military invasion.

In case of attack by a foreign country on Russia or Armenia, military facilities and equipment of each country will be jointly used by both sides.

The Armenian and Russian presidents also agreed to coordinate military-technical policy, and to coordinate defense industries, to standardize military hardware and finance joint military projects.

The other important provision of the treaty covers Russian and Armenian cooperation in the foreign policy field. The Armenian and Russian presidents pledged not to participate in any action or initiative, as well as in a defense treaty or alliance, which is against the sovereignty or territorial integrity of one of the signatory countries. The treaty specifies that Russia and Armenia will continue to cooperate closely in foreign policy aimed at strengthening the peace and stability in the Trans-Caucasus region, as well as in the world.

In the economic field, both sides agreed to create favorable conditions for the convertibility of their national currencies, to take actions for maintaining stability of these currencies, as well as to coordinate in setting hard-currency exchange rates. The Russia-Armenia treaty also envisages expanding cooperation in the trade, transport, communications, energy, science and other fields. The treaty has 23 provisions, and it will be in force for 25 years. Yesterday, President Ter-Petrossian met the Chairman of Russia's State Duma and the Chairman of the Federation Council, each of whom is a strong advocate of widening the Russia-Belarus Union.

Last May, Russia's Duma unanimously approved a resolution urging Armenia to join the Russia-Belarus Union. Since then, the "National Initiative for Union with Russia," a group in Armenia supported by Russian politicians, has collected signatures seeking a referendum on this issue. Armenian Communists also are actively engaged in collecting signatures. According to pro-Russian Armenian groups, 800,000 signatures have been collected so far.

But, President Ter-Petrossian, responding to journalists, said he had not seen the signatures. He also said that the issue of ArmeniaUs joining the Russia-Belarus Union is not included in the agenda of his visit.

Russian Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroyev told reporters yesterday he believes there is already a Russia-Armenia union.

The treaty signed by Armenia and Russia contains few routine phrases characteristic of these types of documents. Instead, this treaty contains precise wording that binds the two countries militarily and politically. And, it is this wording that makes clear Moscow's intention of maintaining its influence -- undiminished -- in the Trans-Caucasus.