Armenian Defense Minister Visits U.S. Amid Growing Ties

Armenia’s defense minister Seyran Ohanian has wrapped up a three-day visit to the U.S., as military relations between the U.S. and Armenia quietly strengthen. Ohanian’s visit was his first to the U.S. since he became defense minister in 2008, according to Armenian Reporter, which reported that he met with his counterpart Leon Panetta and CIA director David Petraeus, among other officials.

Last month, the two countries agreed to carry out their first-ever joint military exercises in April. And Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cables show that Ohanian is someone the U.S. likes working with, Armenian Reporter notes:

Although this was Ohanyan’s first visit to U.S. since his appointment as defense minister in 2008, Ohanyan is known to have a good rapport with Americans, meeting Petraeus and other senior U.S. officials during visits with Armenian peacekeeping units in Iraq and Afghanistan and to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“The better we get to know Minister Ohanian, the more we like him as a partner in political-military efforts,” U.S. Charge in Armenia Joseph Pennington wrote in a 2009 cable made available by Wikileaks. “He seems a straightforward interlocutor, who is respected in the Armenian government and within the Defense Ministry. His credibility as a soldier is very high, given his long experience commanding NKSDF [Nagorno Karabakh Self Defense Forces] troops.”

“We are pleased to find General Ohanian interested and committed on Armenia’s NATO-related defense reform efforts and Euro-Atlantic ties,” Pennington wrote.

Of course, Russia is still going to be Armenia’s main big power patron — Armenia is going to the site of this year’s Collective Security Treaty Organization exercises. And for the U.S. Armenia will remain the lowest priority in the south Caucasus, behind Georgia and Azerbaijan. But Armenia appears to be moving in a somewhat more multivectoral direction. Emil Danielyan wrote in Jamestown last month:

Armenia plans to hold first-ever joint military exercises with the United States just months after agreeing to a more ambitious cooperation framework with NATO. Highlighting its “complementary” foreign and security policy, Yerevan at the same time seems intent on deepening its already close military ties with Russia through a new defense treaty to be negotiated soon. Remarkably, there have been no indications yet that Moscow is annoyed by this increasingly delicate balancing act.

Makes you curious what sort of conversations Yerevan is having with Moscow about all this….

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