By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Armenia can no longer rely on Russia as its main defence and military partner because Moscow has repeatedly let it down so Yerevan must think about forging closer ties with the United States and France, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said.
Armenia, a former Soviet republic bordered by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey, has long relied on Russia as a big power ally and hosts a Russian military base in Gyumri, about 90 km (55 miles) northwest of the capital, and other facilities.
But Pashinyan, a former journalist who came to power in 2018 after a wave of street protests which he casts as a revolution, has angered the Kremlin by questioning the foundations of the alliance.
“We need to understand who we can really maintain military-technical and defence relations with,” Pashinyan told Armenian Public Radio when asked about reform of Armenia’s armed forces.
“Previously, this problem was simple because there was no such question and there was no difficulty in creating a concept. Previously, 95-97% of our defense relations were with the Russian Federation. Now this cannot be for both objective and subjective reasons,” he said.
Pashinyan said Armenia should think about what security ties it should build with the United States, France, India and Georgia.
He questioned whether Armenia should remain a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), and said Armenia needed a new national security strategy and would strengthen its army.
Since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has faced competition from the United States for dominance of what were once Soviet republics and before that parts of the Russian empire.
Pashinyan says Russia failed Armenia when Azerbaijan last year launched a lightning-fast military operation that took back control over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, triggering an outflow of ethnic Armenians living there.
Russia says that Pashinyan’s own failure to navigate the complex rivalries of the South Caucasus was to blame for the defeat of ethnic Armenian fighters in Karabakh, and has cautioned Yerevan that the West is trying to drive a wedge between Armenia and Russia.
Azerbaijan has accused France of sowing the seeds of a new war by supplying arms to Armenia, which is also being courted by the United States.
Pashinyan last month discussed cooperation with Javier Colomina, the NATO Secretary General’s special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia.
President Vladimir Putin last month said it was not in Armenia’s interests for it to leave the CSTO.
(Reporting by Guy FaulconbridgeEditing by Andrew Osborn)