Russian Arms Transfer to Armenia Probable Though Unofficial

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Though Armenia has not confirmed reports that Russia has begun relocating equipment from one of its two military bases in Georgia to Armenia–Russian news agencies reported that a trainload of Russian military hardware and equipment left the Georgian city of Batumi late on Tuesday and was due to arrive in Armenia the next morning. The bases are scheduled to close within the next four years.

"The train was composed of 15 carriages and platforms carrying ammunition and vehicles," Colonel Vladimir Kuparadze–deputy commander of Russian troops in the South Caucasus–was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Armenian officials refused to comment on the information. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told Reuters news agency on May 25–that there has been no discussion on the issue. "At this moment there is no such decision. At this moment nothing is moving from Georgia to Armenia."

"But if such a decision is taken–it will be a prerogative of Russia and Armenia," he added.

The reported relocation began the day after the announcement of a Russian-Georgian agreement on a timetable for the closure of the Russian bases stationed in Batumi and the Armenian-populated town of Akhalkalak in southern Georgia. Under that agreement–the Russia’s will start withdrawing from them next year and complete the process in the course of 2008.

Russia’s armed forces chief of staff General Yuri Baluyevsky said earlier that Moscow might have to move some of their armor to its military base in Armenia.

Baluyevsky’s statement drew strong protests from Azerbaijan–which claims that the military hardware will end up in the hands of the Armenian military and disrupt the balance of forces in the Karabagh conflict. The Azeri Foreign Ministry sent a protest note to Moscow late last month. "We are awaiting a response," the Baku daily "Zerkalo" quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov as saying on Wednesday.

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