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Armenia Says Russia to Extend Military Presence Until 2044

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Armenia's foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, said Russia will extend its military presence in his country until the year 2044 under a new defense deal.

Nalbandian, speaking Wednesday on Russia 24 television, said the agreement will be signed by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev during a visit to Armenia later this week.  Nalbandian says Russia's lease on a military base in northwestern Armenia will continue for 24 years beyond the current end date of 2020.  

Russia already has some 3,000 troops in Armenia, along with MiG-29 fighter jets and a missile defense system.  The base is currently under the command of Russia's North Caucasus Military District.  The new deal also calls for weapons and military hardware upgrades.

There was no immediate response to the announcement from Azerbaijan, which has been locked for two decades in a deadly standoff with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the enclave from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. That conflict raged until 1994, killing some 35,000 people and leaving another one million people homeless.  Both sides continue to accuse the other of violating a cease-fire deal agreement reached that year.

The United States, Russia, Turkey and the European Union in the past year have sought to expedite internationally-mediated peace talks on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.  Those talks, however, have stalled.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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