In recent days, Armenia has moved toward even closer relations with Russia and military cooperation with Syria. President Robert Kocharian’s closest associate, Serge Sarkisian, led both. Sarkisian combines the posts of defense minister, head of the National Security Council and chairman of the Armenian side of the Russian-Armenian intergovernmental cooperation commission. Such a combination of posts, unique in the post-Soviet countries, enables Sarkisian to control Armenia’s foreign, defense, security and foreign economic policies across the board.
In Damascus during the last days of August, Sarkisian signed an agreement on military cooperation with Syrian Defense Minister General Mustafa Tlass. Sarkisian has publicly declined to disclose the content of this agreement in Yerevan. He only indicated that a part of it covers deliveries of Armenian arms, ammunition and other military equipment to Syria. According to Sarkisian, the agreement does not require parliamentary ratification and is going into effect immediately.
This move would seem to resume the policy of the late strongman Vazgen Sarkisian (no relation to Serge). In his successive capacities as defense minister and prime minister from 1993 to 1999, Vazgen Sarkisian pursued a specific model of military diplomacy, aimed at establishing cooperation with historic rivals of Turkey. During those years, Armenia’s military-increasingly out of tune with the civilian state leadership-built its own ties with the defense establishments of Syria, Iran, leftist-ruled Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus. The underlying goal was encirclement of Turkey, a goal out of all proportion with Armenia’s means, which added a unnecessary obstacle to Armenian-Turkish normalization.
By now, Yerevan finds fewer countries willing to enter into such combinations. Its need for normalization with Turkey is, however, as topical as ever, even if not fully recognized by Armenia’s leadership. An Armenian-Syrian military rapprochement is to the liking of Tehran, fitting as it does with its notion of a north-south Iran-Armenia-Russia “axis” opposing the west-east Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Israel “axis” (Arka, Mediamax, August 28; Arminfo, September 3; Haiastani Hanrapetutiun, September 4).
From Syria, Sarkisian flew directly to Moscow to negotiate a ten-year agreement on economic cooperation. Sarkisian’s main negotiating partner is Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is responsible for Russia’s military industry. This points to the centerpiece of the cooperation agreement. It is predicated on a partial takeover of flagship Armenian enterprises, mostly in defense-related sectors, by Russian companies, in return for writing off portions of Armenia’s debts to Russia.
The sides are currently negotiating the form of the planned takeovers: as property transfers or as joint ventures. Kocharian and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to sign the agreement during Putin’s scheduled visit to Yerevan later this month (Arminfo, Mediamax, Noyan-Tapan, ARKA, Azg, September 1-4).
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