Seminar on NATO Military Exercises in Armenia

YEREVAN (Yerkir/Armenpress/RFE/RL)–An international seminar–attended by military officials from 17 NATO member states and Eastern European nations seeking closer ties with the alliance–convened in Yerevan yesterday. They will hold discussions on the ongoing preparation for NATO exercises in Armenia. Among the participants was a representative of the Russian military attach in Yerevan.

The wargames–codenamed Cooperative Best Effort 2003–are due to take place from June 14-26 as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. NATO’s Joint Command South based in Italy is overseeing the preparatory work.

According to General Mikael Melkonian who heads the foreign relations department at the Armenian Defense Ministry–the exercises will be conducted at the Vazgen Sargsian military institute. In his opening speech–Melkonian said the conference aims to develop light infantry in peace operations and promote mutual understanding between the NATO partner states.

Also attending the Yerevan seminar was a group of Turkish military officers–suggesting that Turkey will likely send troops to Armenia in spite of not having diplomatic relations with the latter.

Although Russian troops will take part in first-ever NATO-led military exercises in Armenia–it nevertheless follows with unease and suspicion the US-led military bloc’s expansion towards its borders–the main reason why it has shunned PfP wargames so far.

It particularly disapproves of pro-Western foreign policies of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The latter is expected to formally apply for NATO membership at a NATO summit in Prague later this month.

Melkonian claimed that Moscow does not object to its close ally Armenia’s efforts to forge closer links with the Western alliance. "Russia can not be against any activity that strengthens the combat readiness of the Armenian armed forces," he said. "We consider cooperation with NATO one of the components of our security," the general added.

While Azerbaijan has refused to send a delegate to the conference–Melkonian sees no problem for Armenian servicemen to participate in similar exercises in Azerbaijan. "Our officers have participated in several exercises in Azerbaijan," the general said.

While Armenia has participated with about 15 servicemen in similar exercises in the past–100-150 Armenian servicemen will participate this time around–including third-year cadets of the military institute.

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