ARMENIA: MOSCOW’S MILITARY SANCTUARY IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 198

On October 20 and 23, two convoys of Russian armored vehicles moved from Russia’s Akhalkalaki base in Georgia to Russia’s base at Gyumri in Armenia for permanent deployment there. The convoys, consisting of ten vehicles each–a mix of armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles–are the first in a series of Russian equipment transfers from Akhalkalaki. By November of this year, seventy-six armored vehicles and other equipment will have been redeployed to Gyumri.

In the first convoy of ten, three vehicles experienced technical breakdowns en route and reached Gyumri with delays. The second convoy arrived at full strength.

Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian consented to the redeployment during the meetings with their Russian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Igor Sergeev, in Russia last month. Whether the transfer of that armor from Georgia to Armenia violates the CFE ceilings is unclear due to the difficulty of distinguishing between the Armenian and the Russian combat hardware based in Armenia. The Russians and the Armenians often use a dual-key system which enables them to access and use that hardware jointly or alternately. Often there is no telling as to who owns what. Moreover, the hardware or parts of it are counted sometimes against Armenia’s national quota under CFE and sometimes against Russia’s entitlement under the regional quota. The resulting ambiguities and confusion favor potential violations of CFE limits and discourage international exposure of the violations.

Yerevan’s consent to the redeployment adds to the questions marks surrounding the stated principle of “complementarity” in Armenia’s foreign policy. Continual augmentation of Russian arsenals in Armenia may serve Russia’s interests as construed by the Russian political and military leadership. But is difficult to discern what Armenian interests are served. Gyumri is located on the Turkish border, and other Russian-supplied hardware is deployed with Armenian units in areas seized from Azerbaijan. Such deployments can only add to already existing tensions in the region while complicating efforts to negotiate a Regional Stability Pact, of which Kocharian himself is one of the proponents. Yerevan’s official goal of avoiding regional polarization along East-West lines will be doomed by Yerevan itself if it accepts to serve indefinitely as Russia’s military forward base in the South Caucasus.

If part of the Russian treaty-limited weaponry is simply moved from Georgia next door into Armenia, the CFE implementation process–which is inching forward at the moment–may come to a screeching halt in the South Caucasus (Snark, Kavkasia-Press, Prime-News, Black Sea Press, Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, October 19-23; see the Monitor, May 1, September 2).

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