US Conducts Military Exercises In Country Once Thought To Be In Russia’s Back Pocket

The United States began combined military drills with Armenian forces Monday, another sign the small country in the South Caucasus once considered a Russian satellite is bucking Moscow’s influence, The Wall Street Journal reported.

About 85 soldiers from U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command will train with about 175 Armenian troops for 10 days outside the Armenian capital of Yerevan in exercise Eagle Partner, the WSJ reported. While the U.S. hopes to woo countries that historically depended on Russia for military and economic guarantees, that was not the reason for the drills, a senior State Department official told the WSJ on condition of anonymity.

“We’re always looking for an opportunity to deepen our bilateral ties with these countries,” the official told the WSJ.

Armenia has been seen as a Russian ally since the fall of the Soviet Union and hosts one of the few Russian military bases Moscow operates on foreign soil. While still a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alliance of Soviet countries created to counter NATO, Yerevan has made several moves signaling intent to break off dependence on Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. (RELATED: Pentagon Has Paid A Once-Indicted Arms Dealer $1B To Supply Ammo To Ukrainians)

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan denied an announcement earlier in 2023 that Armenia would host CSTO military exercises and refused to commit troops to the drills that eventually took place in Belarus, according to the WSJ.

1/4 “In the framework of preparation for participation in Intl #peacekeeping missions the #Armenia#U_S. joint exercise “#EAGLE_PARTNER_2023” will be held from 11-20 Sept in Armenia,particularly in “Zar”Training Center of the Peacekeeping Brigade and N Training Center of the MoD.

— Suren Papikyan (@papikyan_suren) September 6, 2023

It has also participated in combined military exercises with the U.S. in the past, according to WSJ. U.S. officials told the outlet plans for the September exercises had developed over time and would emphasize peacekeeping operations.

“Of course, such news causes concern, especially in the current situation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said, according to Reuters.

Another contributing factor to Armenia’s increasingly public efforts to break away from Moscow could be a feeling that Russia’s pledged peacekeeping troops have failed to enforce a ceasefire, brokered in 2020, between Armenia and Azerbaijan since committing forces to the Ukraine invasion, according to the WSJ.

Moscow has failed to ensure a cessasion of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been the center of often deadly conflict for the past 30 years, according to the WSJ. The region is majority Armenian.

After Azerbaijan reasserted control after a brief but bloody war in 2020, thousands of Russian peacekeepers moved in to maintain the cease-fire and guarantee freedom of movement through the Lachin Corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The roadway is critical for transporting food and supplies between the two.

Azerbaijan has maintained a blockade on the corridor, cutting off food and medicine for thousands.

“It’s not just that Armenians are no longer seeing Russia as a partner, it’s that they’re starting to call it a traitor,” Areg Kochinyan, president of the Yerevan-based Research Center on Security Policy, told the WSJ.

The State Department, Department of Defense and Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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