Russia’s Duma on April 18 ratified the treaty with Armenia concerning Russian military bases in that country. Valid for 25 years with automatic five-year extensions, the treaty obligates Armenia to contribute 30 percent of the Russian troops’ expenses and to allow unrestricted Russian overflights "in the interest of Russian bases." Moreover, the document as reported stipulates that additional Russian troops may enter Armenia by mutual consent to deal with natural calamities or a "threat to the security of either side." Since Armenia is not contiguous to Russia, this provision implies that Russian forces would have to use Georgian or Azerbaijani territory to reach Armenia. Russia will in return "ensure ecological safety" at its bases in Armenia. The sides will form a joint commission to handle legal problems arising from the treaty’s implementation.
In his presentation to the Duma, Russian first deputy foreign minister Boris Pastukhov described the mission of Russian forces in Armenia as "ensuring, jointly with Armenian forces, the security of Armenia" and "protecting Russian strategic interests in the Transcaucasus…where external forces are doing their utmost to prevent Russia’s close cooperation with the region’s countries." Pastukhov favorably compared Armenia to Georgia, where, he said, "extremist forces oppose the Russian military presence." Azerbaijan is free of Russian troops. (Armenpress, Noyan-Tapan, Itar-Tass, Interfax, RIA, April 18-19)
The Duma’s vote was overwhelming despite Defense Commission chairman Lev Rokhlin’s proposal to postpone the treaty’s ratification until the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, in order to avoid the risk of Russian military involvement in the conflict. That consideration had delayed the ratification of the treaty, signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Levon Ter-Petrosian in 1995. Recently, however, the independent policies of Azerbaijan and Georgia and the increasing irrelevance of the CIS have highlighted Armenia’s role and value as Russia’s consenting ally. On the other hand, Western legal dogmatism on the Karabakh problem has inadvertently contributed to driving Yerevan into the arms of Moscow hard-liners. (See Monitor, April 18)
Last week in Moscow, Armenian parliament chairman Babken Ararktsian successfully urged Russian parliamentary leaders to accelerate the treaty’s ratification. It is now the Armenian parliament’s turn to ratify the treaty, which would set Armenia at odds with its independence-seeking neighbors and commit the country to satellite status for the lifespan of the next generation.