West Invites Armenia To Join NATO; Russia Concerned With Growing Alliance, Military Drills With The US

Russia has voiced its concerns regarding Armenia’s plans to conduct a joint military exercise with the United States, with many interpreting this exercise as the latest indication of the former Soviet republic moving away from Moscow.

On September 6, Armenia announced its plans to host a joint military drill with the United States next week. The exercise, Eagle Partner 2023, is scheduled from September 11 to September 20 at Armenia’s Zar training center. 

Following this development, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov conveyed to reporters that the news regarding Armenia’s intention to hold a joint military exercise with the United States is “alarming.”

He further said that Moscow will thoroughly analyze and monitor the situation. 

“When it comes to the drills — of course, it causes concern, especially in the current situation. Therefore, we will deeply analyze this news and monitor the situation,” Peskov said. 

Russia, Armenia to Create Joint Military Forces - Armenian National Committee of America
Contingent from the Armed Forces of Armenia on Red Square in 2015. Wikipedia

According to the Armenian defense ministry, the Eagle Partner 2023 exercises enhance cooperation and compatibility between Armenian and US military forces, particularly in international peacekeeping missions.

The Ministry pointed out that units preparing for international peacekeeping operations often engage in comparable joint exercises and training activities in partner nations as part of the preparations for peacekeeping missions.

A US military spokesperson said 85 American soldiers and 175 Armenian personnel are slated to participate in the upcoming military exercises. 

The American contingent, which includes members from the Kansas National Guard, known for its two-decade-long training partnership with Armenia, would be equipped with rifles but would refrain from using heavy weaponry during the exercises.

Additionally, on September 4, Gunther Fehlinger, the European Committee for NATO Enlargement Chair, called on Armenia to consider becoming a part of the North Atlantic Alliance. 

Subsequently, on the same day, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanyan responded that Armenia had been actively collaborating with NATO across multiple formats and was ready to continue this process. 

Nevertheless, the development poses a considerable concern for Russia, which is expected to raise eyebrows and potentially ignite significant irritation within the Russian government.

Escalating Friction Between Russia & Armenia

Russia and Armenia find themselves in a contentious situation regarding a 2,000-strong Russian peacekeeping contingent assigned to oversee the Lachin corridor.

This corridor serves as the vital link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that witnessed a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leading to a ceasefire brokered by Russia in 2020. 

In recent months, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has become more critical of the Russian peacekeeping presence, particularly their alleged failure to ensure unrestricted access along a corridor connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh. 

This criticism underscores the growing tensions between Armenia and Russia in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Recently, Pashinyan expressed dissatisfaction with Russia’s handling of the corridor, suggesting that Moscow might either lack the ability or the willingness to manage it effectively. 

Vladimir Putin during his visit to the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia.

The Armenian government contends that Azerbaijan has blocked access to the corridor and imposed a blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in a humanitarian crisis in towns inhabited by Armenians.

Furthermore, in a significant shift in foreign policy, Pashinyan also said that Armenia’s longstanding reliance on Russia as its security guarantor had been a “strategic mistake.” This admission reflects a shift away from Armenia’s traditional alliance with Russia.

Adding to the complexities, Pashinyan’s wife visited Kyiv to participate in a meeting of first ladies and gentlemen and to provide humanitarian assistance. 

Early this year, Armenia declined to host military exercises conducted by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). 

Russia maintains a permanent military base in Armenia, part of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. 

On its part, the Kremlin has reiterated its commitment to fulfilling obligations towards Armenia, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov emphasizing that Russia has no intentions of withdrawing its support.

“Russia is an integral part of this region,” he said. “Russia plays a consistent, vital role in stabilizing the situation in this region … and we will continue to play this role.”

The tensions between Baku and Yerevan have markedly intensified, with both sides leveling allegations of cross-border attacks against each other.