YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia considers its military base in Armenia to be vital for the South Caucasus country’s national security and will continue to strengthen it with modern weaponry, a visiting top Kremlin official said on Monday.
“I think the presence of Russian servicemen is a guarantee that there will be no negative developments in Armenia,” Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said at the headquarters of the base in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri.
“It’s a very modern, good military base that will continue to be modernized,” he told journalists there.
Asked what concrete forms that modernization will take, Patrushev said, “The [Russian and Armenian] ministers of defense are dealing with that. They have a plan. The military base will evolve and be modernized. I must point out, though, that it is already combat-ready and able to accomplish any task.”
Moscow has already bolstered the Soviet-era facility with new military hardware since the signing in 2010 of an agreement with Yerevan that extended the Russian military presence in Armenia until 2044. The agreement also upgraded the base’s security mission, leading Armenian officials to imply that 5,000 or so Russian soldiers serving there would intervene in case of another war with Azerbaijan.
As well as helping the Armenian military and strengthening its military base, Russia has been selling weapons to Azerbaijan, however. Patrushev effectively confirmed the sale of $1 billion worth of Russian tanks, artillery systems and other weapons to Azerbaijan, which was reported by Russian media last week. “Russia engages in trade with all countries and any country can legally buy weapons from Russia,” he said when asked about those reports.
The Russian arms supplies to Azerbaijan have prompted serious concern from Armenian analysts and opposition figures. Some of them have accused Moscow of betraying Armenia, its main ally in the region. The Armenian government has dismissed such concerns, saying that the reported deliveries will not change the balance of forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Patrushev traveled to Gyumri on the second day of his visit to Armenia that began with a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian. A statement by Sarkisian’s press office said the two men discussed “regional developments challenges” and the Karabakh peace process.
Patrushev’s Armenian opposite number, Artur Baghdasarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday that the Russian official’s visit will result in a new Russian-Armenian agreement relating to defense and security. He declined to elaborate.