The Armenian government gave on Thursday the formal green light to the deployment of about two dozen Russian combat helicopters that will significantly boost Russia’s military presence in Armenia.
The government allocated two plots of land to the Russian military base in the country which will be used by its helicopter squadron.
One of them is located inside the Yerevan’s Erebuni military airport that currently hosts both Armenian and Russian warplanes. The government said the Russians will build there a fuel depot for the choppers.
The other property is located nearby. A government statement referred to it as a “cantonment” where the helicopter gunships and their Russian pilots will be based.
Plans for their deployment were first made public last month by Colonel Aleksandr Petrov, the commander of the aviation unit of the Russian base. Petrov said the Russian military also plans to modernize its 16 MiG-29 fighter jets stationed in Armenia.
Armenia - Russian Air Force officers march at an airfield in Yerevan, 18Oct2013.
An explanatory note released by the Armenian government revealed that Russian and Armenian defense officials agreed on the helicopter deployment at a meeting in Yerevan last April. “The Russian side offered to strengthen the Russian military base No 102 and to that end 18 helicopters are due to be provided to the Republic of Armenia in November,” it said.
The Defense Ministry refused to clarify whether this wording means that some of the helicopters will be given to the Armenian armed forces. The ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, said only that the deployment is part of growing Russian-Armenian military cooperation. “The Russian side has repeatedly spoken about the enlargement of its military base,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hovannisian also stressed, “The Erebuni airport will in no case be fully handed over [to the Russians] because the airport also hosts an Armenian air force unit.”
Russian and Armenian officials announced in June that that Russia will help Armenia expand its relatively small air force within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). But they did not elaborate.
Earlier this year, Moscow reportedly bolstered the base headquartered in Armenia’s second city of Gyumri with Iskander-M ballistic missiles capable of striking targets up to 400 kilometers away.