YEREVAN -- The Armenian parliament has ratified a key agreement to prolong Russia's military presence in Armenia and deepen broader defense links between the two countries, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The agreement, signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's August visit to Yerevan, extended Russia's lease on a military base in Gyumri by 24 years, until 2044. It also upgraded the base's role in contributing to Armenia's security and committed Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry.
The Armenian Constitutional Court upheld the legality of the defense pact and paved the way for its parliamentary ratification in a ruling announced on February 15.
The National Assembly began debating the deal on April 11 and endorsed it almost unanimously the next day.
Speaking to RFE/RL, leaders of the Armenian parliament's pro-government majority stressed the importance of the document.
"After all, we have Turkey next door and we are able to protect our borders," Galust Sahakian, from the Republican Party that is led by President Serzh Sarkisian, said.
"As long as the Russian-Armenian military partnership exists, we will be able to say for certain that Armenia is protected against external threats," Aram Safarian of the Prosperous Armenia Party, a junior partner in Sarkisian's coalition government, said.
But Tigran Torosian, a former parliament speaker who is now critical of the Sarkisian administration, disagreed. He was the only deputy to vote against ratification of the deal.
Torosian said Armenia will gain "absolutely nothing" from the deal and has only "greatly narrowed its room for maneuver on issues vital for the country.
"Unfortunately, from now on, many people in the West and the international community in general will think that Armenia has finally opted for a Russian orientation," Torosian told RFE/RL.
The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party is the only parliamentary force to have expressed serious concern about the Russian-Armenian pact. Its five deputies have been boycotting parliament sessions for domestic political reasons since March 9.
Zharangutyun leaders earlier questioned some Armenian officials' claims that Moscow is now effectively obliged to side with Yerevan in the event of another war with Azerbaijan. They also challenged the official rationale for extending the Russian troop presence now.
The other major opposition groups have refrained from criticizing the pact. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) cautiously welcomed it last August, while the Armenian National Congress (HAK), which is not represented in the parliament, has still not formulated a position on the issue.
HAK leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian has emphasized that Russian-Armenian military ties were first formalized during his 1991-98 rule.
All but one member of Dashnaktsutyun's parliamentary faction voted for the agreement's ratification. The faction leader, Vahan Hovannisian, said they did so with misgivings.
"I am not very enthusiastic about this [agreement]," Hovannisian told RFE/RL. "But I must say at the same time that today we have no substitute for the [Russian-led] security system that we are part of."