POLITICS

Armenia will hold exercises with the US in a period of tensions with Russia

Sep 6, 2023, 2:51 AM | Updated: Sep 7, 2023, 2:44 pm

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Armenia announced Wednesday that its forces will hold military exercises this month with the United States as tensions rose with longtime ally Russia.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry said the exercises that begin Monday are aimed at preparing units for international peacekeeping operations.

U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command said in a release Thursday that about 85 U.S. soldiers will participate in the exercises along with about 175 Armenian soldiers.

“As regards the exercise, certainly, the news raises alarm, especially in today’s circumstances,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after the announcement.

The training will be at Zar and Armavir Training Areas near Yerevan and run through Sept. 20, the U.S. said.

Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for the U.S. command, said the exercise “is a vital opportunity for our soldiers from our two nations to build new relationships at the tactical level and to increase interoperability for peacekeeping operations.

The U.S. troops will include soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division and soldiers from the Kansas National Guard. That Guard unit has had a state partnership with Armenia since 2003.

Landlocked Armenia has close military ties with Russia, including hosting a Russian military base and participating in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization alliance.

However, Armenia has become increasingly disillusioned with Russia since the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. The armistice that ended the war called for a Russian peacekeeping force to ensure passage on the road leading from Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

But Azerbaijan has blocked that road, called the Lachin Corridor, since late December and Armenia repeatedly has complained that Russian peacekeepers are doing nothing to open it. The road’s blockage has led to significant food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia this year refused to allow CSTO exercises on its territory and it declined to send troops to current bloc exercises in Belarus.

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Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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