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Armenia Holds Drills With US Troops Amid Rift With Russia

Joint military drills between Armenian and U.S. forces kicked off Monday, the latest sign the Caucasus country is drifting from Moscow’s orbit, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshapes the post-Soviet space.

The exercises come with frustration growing in Armenia that Russia has failed to act as a security guarantor as tensions build with historic rival Azerbaijan backed by Turkey.

“Exercise Eagle Partner’s opening ceremony has kicked off,” U.S. Army Europe and Africa spokesperson told AFP.

Armenia’s defense ministry said the exercises aim to “increase the level of interoperability” with U.S. forces in international peacekeeping missions.

And the U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command said around 85 soldiers will train with 175 Armenian troops between 11 and 20 in the Zar and Armavir grounds.

It said the drills would help prepare Armenia’s 12th Peacekeeping Brigade to meet NATO standards for an evaluation later this year.

Moscow, which leads a military alliance that includes Armenia, summoned Armenia’s ambassador this week to complain about “unfriendly steps” the country was taking.

The ministry said Armenia’s envoy was given a “tough” rebuke but stressed the countries “remain allies.”

“It sounded more like a threat to Yerevan than a description of reality,” said independent analyst Gela Vasadze.

“In fact, Russian-Armenian relations have reached a strategic impasse,” he told AFP.

‘Weakened Russia’

In Armenia’s capital Yerevan, residents expressed frustration over Russia’s lack of military and political support as tensions build again with Azerbaijan.

Mariam Anahamyan, 27, told AFP that Armenia had made a mistake by “pinning its hopes on the Russians.”

“So now let’s try with the Americans. The consequences may be bad but not trying would be even worse,” she said.

Arthur Khachaduryan, a 51-year-old security guard, said: “Russia failed to keep its commitments during the war and has even made our situation worse.”

He was referring to a brief but bloody conflict between the countries in 2020 for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region in Azerbaijan.

Russia brokered a ceasefire and deployed 2,000 peacekeepers to the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently said Moscow was either “unable or unwilling” to control the passage.

His government says Azerbaijan has closed the road and blockaded the mountainous region, spurring a humanitarian crisis in Armenian-populated towns.

Pashinyan also recently claimed that Armenia’s historic security reliance on Russia was a “strategic mistake.”

His wife visited Ukraine last week to deliver aid and attend a conference on mental health. He travelled to Moscow in May for a World War II commemorative parade.

Bogged down in its invasion and isolated on the world stage, “weakened Russia is rapidly losing influence in its Soviet-era backyard,” said independent analyst Arkady Dubnov.

“Armenians are frustrated with Russia, which failed to help them during the Karabakh war and its aftermath,” he said, adding that Moscow “also seems to be lacking a clear plan, strategy in the Caucasus.”

‘New allies’

Nagorno-Karabakh was at the centre of two wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In the 1990s, Armenia defeated Azerbaijan and took control of the region, along with seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan.

Thirty years later, energy-rich Azerbaijan, which built a strong military and secured the backing from Turkey, took revenge.

After the 2020 war, Yerevan was forced to cede several territories it had controlled for decades.

The European Union and United States have taken a lead role in mediating peace talks but have so far failed to bring about a breakthrough.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh remains volatile and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of moving troops near the region recently, raising the spectre of a fresh large-scale conflict.

“The Kremlin has no resources — neither the will — to help Armenia and is letting Azerbaijan and Turkey to pursue their objectives,” said analyst Dubnov.

“In that situation, Armenia is trying to forge strong new alliances.”


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