MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s military occupied two new sites in the south of Armenia near the Azeri border as an “additional security guarantee” following last year’s conflict, Russian news agencies reported, citing Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan.
The move gives Moscow a bigger footprint in a region where it sent extra troops last year to keep the peace, under an agreement that ended a six-week war in which Azeri forces made far-reaching territorial gains against ethnic Armenians.
Russia is an ally of Armenia, an impoverished former Soviet republic of less than 3 million people. Moscow already has a military base in the northwest of Armenia, and sent 2,000 troops as peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians, under the accord that ended last year’s fighting in the area.
“Two strongholds of the 102nd Russian military base were established in the Syunik region,” the Interfax news agency cited Pashinyan as saying in an address to the Armenian parliament, referring to Russia’ existing base in Armenia.
“This is an additional security guarantee not only for the Syunik region but for Armenia,” Pashinyan was quoted as saying.
Syunik is a strategic strip of Armenia located between Azerbaijan, the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, and Iran. The Armenian defence minister said in February that Yerevan wanted Russia to expand its presence and deploy troops closer to Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan has remained in office in an acting capacity after resigning as prime minister last month in a dispute with the army over blame for the outcome of last year’s war, seen as a humiliating defeat. A new election is set for June 20.
He announced his resignation a day after U.S. President Joe Biden declared Armenians the victims of genocide by Turkey in World War One, recognition Armenians had sought for decades.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Graff)