By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Armenian and Russian troops practiced defensive and counter-offensive operations against an imaginary common enemy on Friday, ending four days of joint military exercises at a training ground 40 kilometers west of Yerevan.
Hundreds of soldiers backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships fired live rounds from assault rifles, artillery pieces and tanks as they fought back a simulated invasion of Armenia from the north. The heavy fire from elements of the Armenian Armed Forces and the Russian military
base stationed in the country lasted for about 90 minutes and marked the final episode of the war games described as a success by the organizers.
“The military exercises have taken place in a coordinated manner and have served their purpose,” Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, clad in a military uniform, declared afterward. “No incidents have been registered and the detachments participating in the exercises have fully achieved their objectives.”
The official purpose of the annual exercises was to improve the interoperability of troops from the two countries bound by a military alliance. The Armenian army’s chief of staff, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, has said they are not directed against any third country. However, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has reportedly expressed concern about the maneuvers, saying that they are at odds with Russia’s role as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Speaking to journalists, Sarkisian indicated that official Yerevan is not worried about a possible deployment of U.S. troops in Azerbaijan as a result of Washington’s national security priorities. “Maybe Russia has a different opinion, but in our view this is the United States’ and Azerbaijan’s business,” he said. “We can’t tell Azerbaijan not to host one or another base on their territory, can we?”
Sarkisian also reaffirmed the Armenian government’s intention to send a small contingent of non-combat military personnel to Iraq where the U.S.-led multinational occupation force has been struggling to maintain law and order. He said the government is awaiting the parliament’s approval for the dispatch of Armenian military doctors, demining experts and truck drivers.