YEREVAN, Armenia – Russia secured a long-term foothold in the energy-rich and unstable Caucasus region Friday by signing a deal with Armenia that allows a Russian military base to operate until 2044 in exchange for a promise of new weaponry and fresh security guarantees.
The 24-year extension will allow the base's fighter jets and thousands of troops to operate outside former Soviet territory, lifting a previous restriction.
The agreement could raise tensions between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan, who have clashed over Nagorno-Karabakh, a rebellious ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan's territory. Azerbaijan shares ethnic and cultural bonds and close ties with Turkey.
"The protocol doesn't just allow the Russian military base to stay in Armenia for a longer period, it also extends the sphere of its geographic and strategic responsibility," Armenian President Serge Sarkisian said after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"Russia wants to underline its role as the key player in the region," Sergei Minasian, a Yerevan-based political expert, told The Associated Press.