Russia to boost military role in Armenia: minister

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Russia will extend its military presence in Armenia to 2044 and take on a new role defending the ex-Soviet republic's national security, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said Wednesday.

Under a far-reaching deal to be signed this week during a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow will extend its lease on a military base in Armenia by 24 years and upgrade the mission of the estimated 3,000 Russian troops stationed there, Nalbandian told the Russia 24 news channel.

The move is likely to raise alarm bells in neighbouring Azerbaijan, which is locked in a long-simmering conflict with Armenia over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

"The contract was previously concluded for a period of 25 years but will now be effective for 49 years, starting from 1995," Nalbandian said.

Under the deal, he said, "the Russian military base, along with providing for the interests of the Russian Federation, will with the armed forces of Armenia provide for the security of Armenia."

Nalbandian said the deal also commits Russia to "assist Armenia in securing arms and modern military equipment."

Tensions remain high over Karabakh, where ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan broke from Baku's control during a war in the early 1990s that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.

At least 10 Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed in skirmishes over the region this year.

Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to retake the region by force and in recent years has more than doubled its defence spending.

Medvedev is due in Armenia for a two-day bilateral visit on Thursday and will stay in the country over the weekend for an informal summit of leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led regional security group.

© 2010 AFP

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