WASHINGTON, DC — The United States has voiced its disapproval of Armenia’s decision to deploy noncombat military personnel to Syria with Russia’s support.
“We recognize the desire of other nations to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria, and we share the concerns about protecting religious minorities in the Middle East,” the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. “However, we do not support any engagement with Syrian military forces, whether that engagement is to provide assistance to civilians or is military in nature.”
“Nor do we support any cooperation between Armenia and Russia for this mission. Russia has partnered with the Assad regime to slaughter civilians and trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.Russia continues to protect the Assad regime and its atrocities on a global stage,” it added in a statement to Armenian media circulated by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan.
The Armenian Defense Ministry sent 83 medics, demining experts and other servicemen to Syria last Friday. It said they will treat civilians and clear landmines in and around the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
The ministry emphasized the “humanitarian” character of the mission which it said had been requested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The deployment coincided with talks held by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and his Armenian counterpart Davit Tonoyan in Moscow. Shoygu thanked Yerevan for its “humanitarian assistance” to Syria.
Armenia’s plans for such a mission were first announced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in September in Moscow following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser, discussed the issue with Pashinyan and Tonoyan when he visited Yerevan in October.
“The prime minister said this was not going to be military assistance, it would be purely humanitarian,” Bolton said after the talks. “I think that’s important. It would be a mistake for anybody else to get involved militarily in the Syrian conflict at the moment.”
Tonoyan defended the Armenian deployment in Syria on Tuesday. What is more, he said Yerevan could also consider sending combat troops there.
However, Pashinyan seemed to rule out such a possibility on Wednesday. “We have no such plans,” he said in the Armenian parliament, commenting on the defense minister’s statement.
Meanwhile, a senior lawmaker from Pashinian’s My Step alliance downplayed the U.S. reaction to the dispatch of Armenian servicemen to Syria.
“I think that this message was addressed to Russia, especially against the background of the U.S. promising or planning to pull its troops out of Syria,” Hovannes Igitian told 1in.am. Igitian expressed confidence that the issue will not damage U.S.-Armenian relations.
A senior Pentagon official said late last month that she will visit Yerevan soon to explore the possibility of stepping up U.S.-Armenian military cooperation. Laura Cooper, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, praised the South Caucasus state allied to Russia for contributing troops to the NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan.