PRAGUE -- A NATO general says he's surprised that Russia is not more openly involved in Armenia's recent tumultuous events that led to longtime leader Serzh Sarkisian being pushed from power.
General Petr Pavel, the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, told RFE/RL on May 3 that he was surprised at the lack of Russian "interference" because of the close ties between Moscow and Yerevan and because of Russia's "significant" military presence in Armenia.
"Armenia is one of the countries which Russia sees as their near neighborhood and their justified sphere of influence," said Pavel, the third-highest-ranking NATO official behind Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti.
"Russia identified so-called 'colored revolutions' as one of [its] major security challenges," Pavel said. "To some extent I am surprised there is not so much visible Russian interference, but I believe there is a lot going on beneath the surface."
Pavel noted that NATO has an Individual Partnership Action Plan with Armenia. But he said that "obviously, if a new government is in favor of more links with NATO, we are ready for it."
The Armenian parliament is scheduled to vote on opposition leader Nikol Pashinian's candidacy for prime minister on May 8.
Pashinian led nationwide protests that have forced Sarkisian to give up power, and that has pressured his ruling Republican Party. The events are reminiscent of so-called "colored revolutions" from 2003 to 2005 in Georgia and Ukraine.
Pashinian has said there will be no geopolitical changes as a result of the upheaval.
Russia In Ukraine
On Ukraine, Pavel said supplies of "lethal weapons" to Kyiv -- such as the recent delivery of some 210 Javelin antitank missiles -- will only be countered by the Russia-backed separatists who control territory in eastern Ukraine taken in 2014.
"I believe adding more lethal weapons would create [an] imbalance that would then be matched from the other side by delivering more lethal weapons as well," Pavel said.
He also said he believed "strongly" in a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"Russia, even though [it] denies any involvement in Donbas, keeps all important positions in these two so-called breakaway republics [in parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions], and they have all important positions in [the] military structure," he said.
Citing NATO sources, Pavel said there were now "3,000 to 5,000 Russian professionals" in eastern Ukraine.
He added that Moscow also "significantly supports these regions [with]…military equipment, heavy weapons, ammunition, all the logistic stocks."
"Basically we can say that without significant Russian support these two [separatist] regions wouldn't be able to survive," he said.
Pavel said the conflict will be resolved through "a combination of a well-prepared Ukrainian armed forces that would be able to provide a deterrent effect and a reasonable political and social development [that] will eventually lead to what we can call [the] normalization of life in eastern Ukraine."
Pavel said Russia was the greatest danger to "the security of Western countries and the model of society that we have."
He said Russia's hybrid war against the West was a "crawling threat that is beneath the surface and it is gaining more and more ground and that's why it's so important to disclose, name it by its proper names, and react to it with the appropriate tools."
Pavel said he did not think NATO is losing the information war with Russia. But he admitted the alliance was "probably late to recognize" aggressive Russian behavior for what it was.
He said Moscow takes advantage of the multitude of freedoms in Western society, something not possible in Russia's tightly controlled atmosphere. That, he said, put Western cyber-countermeasures at a disadvantage.
"Russia does not hesitate to abuse all of these freedoms to exert more influence using all methods, those that are legal and including those that are beyond legality," Pavel said.
Don't Underestimate (Or Overestimate) Russia
The NATO general also discounted a recent think-tank report that concluded Russia sharply cut its military budget in 2017.
"I don't think that we should make defense spending a major element of our calculus," he said. "We have to look -- especially us in uniform -- at real capabilities. Russian military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear, are significant."
Pavel appeared untroubled by Russian President Vladimir Putin's bold presentation of a host of new weapon systems during his state-of-the-union address in March.
"I don't want to underestimate [the] Russian capability to develop new weapons and come up with new technologically advanced systems," he said. "But the way of presenting these new developments was much more to impress [the] population in Russia and to deliver [a] limited deterrence message to the opponents."
To underline his point, he said, "The presentation used by President Putin was mostly for local consumption."
Macedonia By Any Other Name
As far as NATO expansion goes, Pavel said the so-called "name issue" was the only thing preventing Macedonia from being invited to join the alliance.
The long-running name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.
Athens objects to Macedonia's name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.
But Pavel noted that the Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers were "cautiously optimistic" about resolving their dispute over the issue.
He said that if "everything goes well, it will take a couple of months or probably even half a year before this process is completed."
A Czech, the 56-year-old Pavel is the highest-ranking Central European in NATO history. He was elected to head the alliance's Military Committee in 2014.
Pavel was in Prague as the keynote speaker at the Stratcom Summit hosted by a Prague-based think tank called European Values.