Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 55

In his clearest move yet against pro-Moscow military circles, Armenian President Robert Kocharian has dismissed Major-General Astvatsatur Petrosian from his post as deputy defense minister, which Petrosian had held since 1992 (see the Monitor, March 16). Petrosian is also one of the leaders of the paramilitary organization Yerkrapah [Country Defender], a mainstay of the anti-Kocharian “party of power.” Kocharian’s order, signed on March 15 and made public on the 16th, does not state the reasons for dismissing Petrosian (Noyan-Tapan, Respublika Armeniya, March 16).

This general has been a visible exponent of the Russian orientation among the Armenian military. On March 1, Petrosian signed with Russia’s charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Igor Gordyushev, a protocol turning over Armenian land areas–including the immovable property–along the Turkish border to the Russian military for exclusive use over a 25-year period, rent-free. The command of Russian forces in Armenia intends to use that land for regular troop and aviation exercises–a use which can only mar Armenian-Turkish relations. Russian troops have exercised in some of those areas in recent years (Snark, Noyan-Tapan, Azg, March 1-2; Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 2; Kommersant, March 3). The 25-year arrangement would, however, serve to ensure an open-ended Russian military presence and to preclude Armenia’s participation in the regional security pacts proposed by her pro-Western neighbors Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan (see the Monitor, January 18, 27; Fortnight in Review, January 21).

In signing that document, Petrosian acted on questionable legal authority, but undoubtedly with the blessing of Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian. The protocol is not legally binding on Armenia, but the Defense Ministry said that it would sign a binding agreement within three months. Petrosian was also personally involved in last month’s initiative to lay the basis of military cooperation between Armenia and Belarus (see the Monitor, February 14). He was quoted in a Moscow press interview as saying that such cooperation represents a logical consequence of the Armenian-Russian alliance and the creation of the Russia-Belarus Union (Kommersant, February 10).

Meanwhile the defense minister, Lieutenant-General Vagharshak Harutiunian, who is Kocharian’s strongest internal opponent, signed a set of three agreements yesterday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Marshal Igor Sergeev. The main agreement defines the “scope of authority” of the two sides in using the Russian air defense systems deployed in Armenia and in coordinating that use from a single headquarters (Itar-Tass, March 16). That formula seems to confirm earlier indications of the possible joint use of the Russian planes and missiles which were deployed last year in Armenia (see the Monitor, March 15). Harutiunian’s links to Russia’s military hierarchy date back to his service in Moscow as chief liaison officer of the Armenian Defense Ministry during Vazgen Sarkisian’s ministerial tenure. When Vazgen Sarkisian took over as prime minister last June, he selected Harutiunian as the new defense minister.

An East-West tug of war has erupted on the diplomatic and foreign trade front as well. Last week the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Artashes Tumanian, spoke up against Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union during a parliamentary hearing called by pro-accession deputies. Describing such a course as “dangerous,” Tumanian offered the clinching argument that the Russia-Belarus Union is intended to counterbalance NATO’s enlargement and that it is not for Armenia to serve in that role (Snark, March 10). As Tumanian spoke, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Shugarian was visiting NATO headquarters to invite the alliance’s secretary-general, George Robertson, to Yerevan (see the Monitor, March 15). Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian followed up with unprecedented verbal overtures to the West during his current visit to the Baltic states. Having expressed a “positive attitude” toward NATO’s eastward enlargement, Oskanian next stated that Armenia seeks closer relations with the Baltic states “taking into account their successful advance toward European integration. [As] Armenia aspires to full membership in the European family, it is extremely important for us to study the Baltic experience and to receive their help” (BNS, March 15). Oskanian had, days earlier, heard a strongly-worded message from the senior U.S. diplomat Jan Kalicki, who is responsible for relations with newly independent countries. Kalicki urged Yerevan to join the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project–which Washington supports while Moscow opposes–and seek a normalization of relations with the pro-Western neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as distancing itself from Iran. Meanwhile Washington and the World Bank are advising Yerevan against allowing Russian companies to take over Armenia’s electrical power system in the tender scheduled for next month (Ara Tadevosian, “Armenian Privatization Controversy,” IWPR Caucasus Reporting Service, March 3). While Aram Sarkisian is believed to favor that kind of solution, Kocharian has until now maintained a careful silence on the subject. On March 15, however, receiving a group of political supporters, Kocharian had himself quoted as expressing “particular interest in the privatization of the electricity distribution system”–a signal that he is prepared to enter that fray as well (Noyan-Tapan, March 16).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions