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Armenian leader announces plan to leave Russia-dominated security alliance as ties with Moscow sour

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP) Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)
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YEREVAN, Armenia -

The leader of Armenia on Wednesday declared his intention to pull out of a Russia-dominated security alliance of several ex-Soviet nations as tensions rise between the two allies.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government will decide later when to leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, a grouping that includes Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Amid the widening rift with Russia, Armenia earlier froze its participation in the alliance, cancelled its involvement in joint military drills and snubbed CSTO summits.

Pashinyan said Wednesday that for the first time that Armenia will leave CSTO altogether. He spoke during a question-and-answer session in parliament, saying that the government will decide later when to make the final move.

"We will leave," Pashinyan said. "We will decide when to leave. We won't come back, there is no other way."

Shortly after, in an apparent attempt to soften the blow to Moscow, Armenia's Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan emphasized that Pashinyan hadn't announced the full withdrawal yet.

"Those who assert that the prime minister said that Armenia is withdrawing from the CSTO are mistaken," Mirzoyan said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

Armenia's ties with Russia, its long-time sponsor and ally, have grown increasingly strained after Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign in September to take the Karabakh region, ending three decades of ethnic Armenian separatist rule there.

Armenian authorities accused Russian peacekeepers who were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after a previous round of hostilities in 2020 of failing to stop Azerbaijan's onslaught. Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn't have a mandate to intervene.

Speaking to lawmakers Wednesday, Pashinyan denounced the CSTO for its failure to offer protection to Armenia and alleged that some of its members sided with Azerbaijan.

"It turned out that its members failed to fulfil their obligations under the treaty and planned the war against us alongside Azerbaijan," he said, without elaborating.

Russia has engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to preserve close relations with Armenia while also maintaining warm ties with Azerbaijan and its main ally Turkey, a key economic partner for Moscow amid Western sanctions.

The Kremlin has been angered by Pashinyan's efforts to deepen Armenia's ties with the West and distance his country from Moscow-dominated alliances. Russia was particularly vexed by Armenia's decision to join the International Criminal Court, which last year indicted Putin for alleged war crimes connected to Russian actions in Ukraine.

Moscow, however, has sought to downplay the differences as it focused on the war in Ukraine that has dragged into a third year.

Pashinyan's move comes as he faces a wave of large protests demanding he step down over his government's decision to turn over four border villages to Azerbaijan as part of an effort to negotiate a peace agreement with its long-time adversary.

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