Sarkisian Defends Utility Compensation to Russian Troops

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian sought to quell media outcry over his government’s decision to pay for the public utilities used by the Russian military base–saying on Thursday that Moscow has already reciprocated with "far greater services" to Armenia.

The agreement under which the Armenian government will foot the Russian troops’ electricity–water–and phone bills beginning next January was signed during Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s visit to Yerevan earlier this week. The estimated cost is $1.5 million annually.

Sarkisian held a special news conference to disprove the claims. "We have gained a lot more [from military cooperation with Russian]–than lost," he said. "In this sphere we have much less to lose than to gain."

He said that in accordance with a prior bilateral agreement–Armenia has been picking up 70 percent of the Russian troops’ utility expenses since 1996.

Sarkisian would not dwell on the military "services" provided by the Russia’s–saying only that as much as $52 million of Armenia’s debts were cleared by a 2002 agreement. The outstanding debts were owed for the training of Armenian officers and other military personnel since 1996.

Thousands of them have been educated at Russian military academies since then. According to Sarkisian–the Armenian military was due to pay $2,500 for every cadet each year–but has actually allocated an average of just $200.

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