Armenian Troops Unlikely to Join NATO Exercises

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The chief of staff of the Armenian armed forces said on Saturday his troops have no plans to participate in NATO-led military exercises to be held in neighboring Georgia later this year.

"We might send some officers to monitor the exercises–but do not plan the participation of our military units," Lieutenant-General Mikael Harutiunian told RFE/RL.

According to Agence France Presse–NATO officials arrived in Tbilisi on Friday to prepare the ground for large-scale military exercises–the second of their kind to take place in Georgia after similar wargames last year. The exercises–codenamed Best Effort 2002–will be part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

The French news agency listed Armenia among nine non-NATO states–including Azerbaijan–that will take part in the wargames. But Harutiunian said the Armenian military has no intention to join in. A spokesman for the defense ministry in Yerevan–Seyran Shahsuvarian–also declined to confirm the information–saying that he has "never heard" of such plans.

Harutiunian said Armenia will instead carry on with preparations for hosting first-ever NATO-led exercises on its soil scheduled for 2003. The general told RFE/RL in November that "several dozen" European countries–including Armenia’s arch-rival Turkey–may send their troops. He said the exercises will test their coordination of possible joint peacekeeping operations.

Armenia–which has a close military alliance with Russia–has been more cautious in developing ties with NATO than its two ex-Soviet neighbors–Georgia and Azerbaijan. Tbilisi and Baku do not rule out seeking membership of the Alliance in the future.

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