RUSSIA ENDS TRANSFER OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO ARMENIA
By Emil Danielyan
Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Aug. 17, 2006
Russia was reportedly completing on Thursday the transfer of military
equipment from one of its two Soviet-era bases in Georgia to Russian
troops stationed in Armenia.
Russian news agencies said a convoy of 13 military trucks and armored
vehicles left the Russian base in Akhalkalaki, southern Georgia, early
in the morning and was expected to cross the Armenian border in the
afternoon. Russian military officials were quoted as saying that it
is the 12th and last batch of military hardware and other equipment
sent to Armenia since the start of a gradual Russian pullout from
Georgia last May.
Under a Russian-Georgian agreement signed earlier this year, Moscow is
to close the bases headquartered in Akhalkalaki and the Georgian Black
Sea city of Batumi by the end of 2008. Most of the tanks and other
heavy weaponry of the Akhalkalaki facility are due to be transported
to Russia by rail via Azerbaijan.
Unlike Georgia, Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective
Security Treaty Organization and regards Russian military presence
as a key element of its national security doctrine. Yerevan has made
it clear that Russian troops will remain on Armenian soil in the
foreseeable future despite its growing military ties with NATO and
the United States in particular.
The Russian military had moved military equipment from the
Armenian-populated Georgian town to its larger base in Gyumri,
northwestern Armenia, even before the agreement. The shipments sparked
protests by Azerbaijan which feared that it could be transferred to
the Armenian military and thereby change the balance of forces in
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russian officials have assured Baku
that the materiel is meant for the Gyumri base only.
Russia’s reluctant pullout raised fears of an upsurge in tensions
in Akhalkalaki and other parts of Georgia’s impoverished Javakheti
region which is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. The Russian
base has long been Javakheti’s largest employer. There have been no
reports of major unrest there in recent months.