YEREVAN (RFE/RL) – On Tuesday, President Serzh Sarkisian pledged to “modernize” Armenia’s army through a seven-year plan of actions which he said will be launched less than three months before he completes his final presidential term in April.
“A drastic modernization of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia is imperative now,” Sarkisian told senior military officials in Yerevan. “That is dictated by both current and future challenges.”
“Today I am setting the task of drawing up a new seven-year program of modernizing the army for 2018-2015. We must turn that program into reality jointly: me, as the commander-in-chief, the defense minister, the army top brass, our soldiers, and the entire society,” he said in a speech delivered at an Armenian Defense Ministry think-tank.
“After discussions and amendments, we will approve the program on January 28, 2018, namely on the [26th] birthday anniversary of our army,” he added, describing the planned document as “one of the most important, if not the most important, tasks of our state at this stage.”
Sarkisian’s second and final five-year term will end in early April. It will be immediately followed by Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government, meaning that the next head of state will have largely ceremonial powers. Most of the existing presidential powers, including that of army commander-in-chief, will be transferred to the prime minister.
Sarkisian, whose Republican Party controls the Armenian parliament, has still not clarified whether he is planning to become prime minister or take up another official position after his decade-long presidency. He said vaguely in March that he would like to “play a role, in some capacity, in ensuring the security of our people.”
Observers believe that he will at least retain de facto control over the Armenian military and security apparatus. Some of them have speculated that he could do that as head of the national Security Council, which will have more powers under the country’s amended constitution.
The president addressed top military officials the day after delivering a speech at a meeting with the leadership of the Armenian police. He met with high-ranking officials from another law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, on October 9.
Sarkisian said on Tuesday that the new defense plan will call, among other things, for sizable annual increases in defense spending. “You are well aware that the quantity and quality of our weapons has drastically improved in the last several years,” he said. “These efforts will be continuous. Every year we will have new and substantial achievements in this area.”
The draft state budget for next year unveiled by Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan’s cabinet late last month would increase Armenia’s defense spending by about 18 percent to 247 billion drams ($515 million).
Sarkisian said that the defense plan will also detail measures to support Armenia’s defense industry and improve the social welfare of military personnel and medical services provided to them.