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By Armen Zakarian

The Armenian and Russian militaries on Friday ended three days of joint military exercises aimed at improving their coordination and combat-readiness.

About 400 servicemen from the Armenian armed forces and the Russian military base in Armenia staged mock military operations at a training ground near Yerevan, simulating an offensive against an imaginary invading enemy. Several dozen tanks, helicopter gunships and warplanes were also involved in the annual war games, firing shells and rockets and dropping bombs on a mountain slope overlooking a Russian-Armenian command tower.

Top army officers from both countries, including the commander of the Russian troops in the South Caucasus, General Nikolay Zolotov, watched the drills through binoculars.

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who attended the concluding session of the exercises, said he is satisfied with their course and the overall state of Russian-Armenian military cooperation. He said the two countries will continue to boost their close military ties.

Armenia’s military alliance with Russia is a key component of its national security doctrine. The latest maneuvers were the first practical activity of a recently formed joint Russian-Armenian army contingent which Moscow and Yerevan say will tackle common security threats facing them in the region. The contingent comprises troops from the Fifth Corps of the Armenian army and the Russian military base.

Sarkisian and other Armenian defense officials reaffirmed their plans to deepen military cooperation with NATO within the framework of its Partnership for Peace program. Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told RFE/RL that Armenia will host first-ever NATO-led military exercises on its territory in July 2003.

Sarkisian said those who are opposed to closer military links with the United States and other Western nations “do not understand Armenia’s national interests.”

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