Armenia’s Demand for Russian Border Guards Withdrawal Sparks Controversy

Armenia’s Demand for Russian Border Guards Withdrawal Sparks Controversy

Russian lawmakers have strongly criticized Armenia’s request for the removal of Russian border guards from Armenia’s primary international airport, viewing it as a significant strain on bilateral relations.

One lawmaker cautioned Armenia against pursuing the withdrawal of all Russian military security personnel from the country, emphasizing the potential adverse effects on Armenia’s security.

For decades, Russian border guards have been stationed not only at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport but also along Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran, reflecting the close military cooperation between Russia and Armenia. However, a senior Armenian official recently announced the government’s formal demand for the withdrawal of Russian border guards from the airport, citing Armenia’s increased capacity for independent control.

This move comes in the wake of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s previous assertion of Armenia’s “freezing” membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a statement that Moscow has yet to officially address.

Viktor Bondarev, the first deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s defense committee, criticized the Armenian government’s action, suggesting it signals a cooling of relations and a departure from the CSTO’s principles. He warned against further steps by Armenia to demand the withdrawal of all Russian military forces, foreseeing heightened tensions in the region as a potential consequence.

Konstantin Zatulin, a senior member of Russia’s State Duma, echoed concerns about Armenia’s drift away from Russia, suggesting that the Armenian government’s actions indicate a deliberate distancing from their traditional ally.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan clarified that the demand solely pertains to the removal of Russian border guards from Zvartnots airport, indicating a desire to maintain the military presence elsewhere in the country.

While Prime Minister Pashinian has hinted at the possibility of Armenia exiting the CSTO due to perceived shortcomings in security commitments, there have been no explicit plans to terminate Russian military presence in Armenia, according to Armenian officials.

Opposition groups within Armenia have cautioned against severing military ties with Russia, warning of potential security risks and emphasizing the difficulty of filling any resulting security vacuum with Western support. They fear such a move could invite military aggression from Azerbaijan and Turkey.