Armenia Pulls Out of NATO Drills in Georgia

Soldiers from the United States, Armenia, and other countries at the opening ceremony of last year's NATO exercises in Armenia on September 29, 2008.

Soldiers from the United States, Armenia, and other countries at the opening ceremony of last year's NATO exercises in Armenia on September 29, 2008.

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia on Tuesday pulled out of NATO military exercises due to begin in Georgia citing “the current situation,” after Georgia said it had put down a mutiny at a military base. Its close ally Russia had strongly condemned the war games as an act of provocation.

Georgia, which said it quashed the rebellion at a base near Tbilisi, accused Russia of trying to foment a wider uprising to disrupt the month-long NATO exercises due to begin on Wednesday.

“In the current situation the representatives of the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia will not participate in the NATO Partnership for Peace exercises,” the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.

Armenia was among more than a dozen NATO member states and partners that are due to launch the exercises at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi on Wednesday. Around 1,000 soldiers from these countries will practice “crisis response” through June 1.

According to NATO, the drills are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs, and will not involve any light or heavy weaponry.

Russia has reacted angrily to the planned war games, accusing NATO of raising tensions in the region less than nine months after its war with Georgia. It reportedly deployed troops at the border with Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the weekend.

The Russian reaction led Kazakhstan, Moldova and Serbia to back out of the exercises late last month. Yerevan, which maintains closer military ties with Moscow, was still expected to send a small number of troops to the drills until the Defense Ministry statement.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, confirmed on May 1 its participation in the NATO-led exercises and stressed the country’s commitment to relations with NATO and its active participation in the Individual Partnership Action Plan.

The Armenian Aravot newspaper earlier said Armenia’s decision to pull out of the drills was made after a meeting last Wednesday in Brussels between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at which the NATO chief reportedly supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian had reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening Armenia’s ties with NATO during talks with the alliance’s visiting deputy secretary-general, Claudio Bisogniero, on April 28. He described those ties as one of the elements of his country’s national security doctrine.

Armenia hosted similar NATO-led exercises, boycotted by Russia, last fall. The announcement of its decision not to take part in the Georgia drills followed a further upsurge in Russia-NATO tensions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reported on Tuesday to have dropped plans to attend a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council this month in protest at NATO’s expulsion of Russian diplomats over a spy scandal.

It was not immediately clear if the Armenian pullout had anything to do with the mutiny at the Georgian Mukhrovani military base. The standoff at the Mukhrovani base just outside Tbilisi reportedly lasted several hours and ended after the intervention of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgian officials accused Russia of organizing the rebellion to disrupt the NATO exercises. Moscow dismissed the accusation as “insane.”

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