Armenia says it will not hold any Russian-led drills this year

Armenia will not hold any Russian-led military exercises this year, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday, signaling growing frustration with Moscow.

Pashinyan’s announcement came after the leader of the ex-Soviet republic criticized Moscow and the work of Russian peacekeepers in the South Caucasus, which has been plagued by fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan for decades.

Speaking to reporters, Pashinyan said he sees no reason for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to hold military exercises in Armenia this year.

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“These exercises will not take place,” he told reporters.

“Armenia does not consider it expedient to hold CSTO exercises in the republic this year.”

Analysts say Russia – distracted by its protracted war in Ukraine – is losing influence in the South Caucasus after decades playing the role of power broker.

Pashinyan noted that the organization had refused to condemn Azerbaijan, which waged a six-week war with Armenia in 2020 over control of the Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The conflict claimed more than 6,500 lives and ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, in which Yerevan ceded areas it had controlled for decades and Moscow sent peacekeepers to Karabakh.

Turkey, Azerbaijan’s main arms supplier, supported Baku in the conflict.

Despite the end of large-scale fighting, tensions remain across their borders.

In May 2021, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of violating its territorial integrity and transferring troops to its territory.

– “Close Ally” –

Pashinyan hinted that Russia, which had considered Armenia its “number one ally,” abandoned his country at the time.

“Armenia expects concrete measures from its Russian partners and other partners in the field of security,” Pashinyan said on Tuesday, referring to the invasion in 2021.

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“This issue is important in terms of building further relationships,” he added.

The CSTO, based in Moscow, brings together Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The security alliance said Tuesday it was looking at other locations for the drills.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Pashinyan’s announcement “a fairly new statement.”

“Armenia is definitely our very close ally,” he said.

“We will continue the dialogue. Even with the issues that are very complex today.”

Analysts have pointed to Russia’s unwillingness to clash with Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

Pashinyan has also repeatedly accused Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect ethnic Armenians in Karabakh and called for a multinational peacekeeping force to intervene.

Yerevan said Azerbaijan has been blocking a key road connecting Armenia with Karabakh since mid-December, causing shortages of food, medicines and fuel. To deal with the food shortage, the local authorities want to introduce food stamps.

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As part of the 2020 ceasefire, Russian peacekeepers are responsible for maintaining security over the link dubbed the Lachin Corridor.

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