By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia and Russia ended on Tuesday their annual joint military exercises which President Robert Kocharian described as a manifestation of the enduring “fraternity” between the two nations.
About 1,000 soldiers backed by dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military hardware simulated a joint counteroffensive at a sprawling training ground 40 kilometers west of Yerevan. The four-day war games followed a familiar scenario, with Armenian and Russian troops repelling an imaginary enemy that invaded Armenia and was approaching the nearby nuclear power station at Metsamor.
The ground shook as live rounds fired by tanks, artillery systems, helicopter gunships and two Russian MiG-29 fighter jets detonated on hillside “enemy positions.” The heavy fire was followed by an infantry assault.
The final part of the exercises was watched by President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Armenian and Russian army generals. Also attending it was Nikolay Bordyuzha, the visiting secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russian-led military pact of six ex-Soviet states, including Armenia.
“The result that was achieved today is a higher level of interoperability between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Armenia,” Bordyuzha told reporters.
Kocharian appeared even more impressed with the maneuvers as he addressed their participants in Russian. “Messrs. Generals, officers and soldiers, I would like to thank you all for your service to the homeland, for the result which you have demonstrated today and for the continuing fraternity between Armenia and Russia,” he said. “That fraternity has taken a concrete form: a treaty thanks to which a Russian military base exists in Armenia and thanks to which we are holding today joint exercises aimed at ensuring the security of our countries.”
Kocharian refused to speak to journalists afterward, referring all questions to his defense minister. “I am largely satisfied with the course [of the war games],” said Sarkisian. “Apart from being an important learning process, military exercises are also a kind of examination designed to determine whether an army unit is ready to wage combat operations. Our army is ready [to do that] today.”
Russian-Armenian exercises have been held on a regular basis in Armenia for the past ten years, highlighting close military ties which the two countries have maintained since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The military alliance with Russia remains a key element of Armenia’s national security doctrine despite Yerevan’s efforts to deepen military cooperation with NATO and the United States in particular.