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Armenia cancels military exercises with Russia amid tensions

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Amid ongoing tensions, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that his country will not conduct joint exercises with Russia this year.

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

Speaking to reporters, Pashinyan said he saw no reason for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to hold military exercises in Armenia this year, saying that they were “inappropriate in the current situation.”

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

Armenia does not consider it appropriate to hold CSTO exercises in the republic this year.

Analysts say Russia, troubled by its long war in Ukraine, is losing influence in the South Caucasus after decades of playing the role of power broker.

Pashinyan noted that Russia, which Armenia considered its “first ally”, had failed his country. Referring to the 2021 incursion, Pashinyan said, “Armenia expected concrete actions from its Russian partners and other partners in the field of security.”

“This issue is important from the point of view of building further relations,” he added.

Headquartered in Moscow, the CSTO includes Russia and former Soviet republics such as Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. On Tuesday, the security coalition said it was looking for other sites for the exercises.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Pashinyan’s announcement “a rather new statement”. “In any case, Armenia is our close ally,” he said.

“We will continue the dialogue, including on those issues that are now very complex.” Analysts pointed to Russia’s unwillingness to enter into a conflict with Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

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

As part of the 2020 ceasefire, Russian peacekeepers are responsible for maintaining security across the link, referred to as the Lachin corridor.

Lachin province, which lies between Karabakh and Armenia, was the last of the three regions on the Karabakh edge to surrender to Armenian forces in December 2020. Russia has deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to ensure safe transit through the region, to monitor. peace agreement and help refugees return.

But travel through the Lachin Pass has been blocked since December 12 by Azerbaijani activists, who have demanded access to what Azerbaijan has called illegal mining sites in Karabakh. Armenian authorities described the blockade as part of Azerbaijan’s efforts to extend its control over the region and urged Russian peacekeepers to open the road.

However, Azerbaijan rejected Armenia’s accusations that it closed the Lachin corridor, noting that Russian forces were blocking the road. Azerbaijan’s move has left Russia in an awkward position. Armenia hosts a Russian military base and Moscow has been its biggest ally and patron. However, the Kremlin has also sought to maintain warm relations with oil-rich Azerbaijan.

Focusing its attention on the fighting in Ukraine, Russia has taken a wait-and-see attitude over the blockade of the Lachin Pass, angering Armenia.

After the five-year mandate of the Russian peacekeepers expires, Armenia can invite the UN peacekeepers to attend “if Russia fails to do its job to ensure security for the residents of the Karabakh region,” Pashinyan said.

The 2020 peace deal brokered by Russia also called for the establishment of a communications line between Azerbaijan and its dependent Nakhichivan via Armenian territory. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday accused Armenia of reneging on its promise to provide such a transit corridor.

“Whether Armenia wants it or not, it will be implemented,” Aliyev said in televised remarks, describing the corridor leading to Nakhchivan as Azerbaijan’s “natural right,” adding that Azerbaijan has no plans to launch another war against Armenia.

Peskov had previously rejected the claim of the Secretary of the Armenian Security Council that Moscow pressured Armenia to join the Federation of Russia and Belarus.

Commenting on the allegation on Tuesday, Pashinyan said that Moscow had not made any official request to this effect, noting that “the reality is not as simple as it seems.”

He added, “Sometimes it is not the text that needs to be considered but the subtext.”

The Prime Minister stressed that “Armenia’s sovereignty is an absolute value.”

Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military illegally occupied Karabakh, a region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Clashes broke out on September 27, 2020, as the Armenian military attacked civilians and Azerbaijani forces, violating several humanitarian ceasefire agreements.

During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated many cities and about 300 settlements and villages that Armenia had occupied for nearly 30 years.

The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered deal on November 10, 2020, which was seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

However, the ceasefire has been violated several times since then.

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