Armenia agrees longterm Russian army presence

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Armenia's parliament on Tuesday ratified a deal to allow Russian troops to remain in the country for more than 30 years, boosting Moscow's military influence in the strategic South Caucasus region.

The deal sees Russian forces extending their lease on a military base in Armenia until 2044 and upgrading the mission of the estimated 3,000 troops stationed there.

Deputy Defence Minister Ara Nazarian said that the agreement would ensure Armenia's security and protect Russian interests in the former Soviet region where the Kremlin wants to play a leading role.

"In addition, according to the amendments, the Russian side will assist Armenia in the provision of armaments and modern military equipment," Nazarian told lawmakers.

The deal has caused unease in Azerbaijan, which is locked in a long-running conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh, and in neighbouring Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

"After the Russian-Georgian conflict, Russia understandably wants to strengthen its positions in the Caucasus," said independent lawmaker Tigran Torosian, expressing concern that Yerevan was making too deep a commitment to Moscow.

Russia however has not openly committed itself to intervening militarily in any conflict involving Armenia.

As well as infantry and artillery units, the Russian base in the Armenian city of Gyumri, near the border with Turkey, hosts S-300 missile defence systems and MiG-29 fighter jets.

© 2011 AFP

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