Armenia is set to host a joint military exercise with the United States next week, a development that Russia said was cause for concern.
The Armenian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday the purpose of the September 11-20 Eagle Partner 2023 drills was to prepare its forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions.
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“Within the framework of preparation for peacekeeping missions, units preparing for international peacekeeping operations frequently participate in similar joint exercises and trainings in partner countries,” the ministry said in a statement.
A US military spokesperson said 85 American soldiers and 175 Armenians would take part. He said the Americans – including members of the Kansas National Guard which has a 20-year-old training partnership with Armenia – would be armed with rifles and would not be using heavy weaponry.
Earlier this year, Armenia refused to host military drills by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russian-led alliance of post-Soviet countries, reflecting Yerevan’s growing tensions with Moscow.
Despite the small scale of this week’s exercise, the Kremlin said it would be watching closely.
“Of course, such news causes concern, especially in the current situation. Therefore, we will deeply analyse this news and monitor the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and sees itself as the pre-eminent power in the South Caucasus region, which until 1991 was part of the Soviet Union.
It maintains a peacekeeping force in the region to uphold an agreement that ended a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, the second they have fought since the Soviet collapse.
But Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a weekend interview with an Italian newspaper that Russia had failed to protect Armenia against what he called continuing aggression from oil-rich Azerbaijan.
He suggested that Russia’s war in Ukraine meant it was unable to meet Armenia’s security needs.
Peskov told reporters on Tuesday he disagreed with Pashinyan’s remarks.
“Russia is an absolutely integral part of this region,” he said. “Russia plays a consistent, very important role in stabilising the situation in this region … and we will continue to play this role.”
The tensions between Moscow and Yerevan are rooted in Armenia’s conflicts with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Yerevan since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
Pashinyan has been increasingly critical of Russian peacekeepers in recent months, accusing them of failing to secure free transit along a corridor linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.