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Armenian Official: Russian Troops In Armenia Set For Mission Upgrade

YEREVAN -- Defense officials in Moscow and Yerevan said on July 30 they are planning to sign a new military agreement that would assign Russia and its troops a greater role in ensuring Armenia's security, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The two governments will soon amend a 1995 treaty dealing with a Russian military base in Armenia, Interfax reported. It said the Russian government has already submitted a relevant "protocol" to President Dmitry Medvedev, who is scheduled to visit Yerevan in mid-August.

It said one of the amendments proposed by the protocol makes clear the Russian base will not only protect Russia's interests but also contribute to Armenia's national security.

Under another change cited by Interfax, Moscow will explicitly commit itself to providing its main South Caucasus ally with "modern and compatible weaponry and [special] military hardware."

A senior official at the Armenian Defense Ministry confirmed this information to RFE/RL. He noted, though, that the Russian troops headquartered in the northern Armenian city of Gyumri are already tasked with defending Armenia. The planned changes in the Russian-Armenian treaty would simply spell out that mission in more explicit terms, he explained.

The treaty went into effect in 1997 and is valid for 25 years. Interfax said its amended version would prolong the Russian military presence in Armenia by another 24 years and provide for its automatic extension in the future.

The Russian base, which numbers some 4,000 personnel, and the broader military alliance with Russia have been key elements of Armenia's national security ever since the Soviet collapse.

Armenian leaders have repeatedly stated that despite forging closer security links with the West in recent years, they will not seek NATO membership in the foreseeable future.

Just last week, Yerevan and Moscow announced plans to significantly boost cooperation between their defense industries within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance of seven ex-Soviet states.

Top Russian and Armenian security officials said after talks in Yerevan that they have reached agreements envisaging the establishment of joint defense ventures.