Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov met with Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian the day after Georgia annulled an agreement that has allowed Moscow to use Georgian territory for making shipments to the Russian military base in Armenia.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the main purpose of Postnikov’s visits was to assess the ongoing “optimization of the deployment” of army detachments making up the base. It gave no details of the troop redeployment.
The ministry spokesman, Davit Karapetian, also declined to elaborate on that process. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it is “too early” to say whether the number of the Russian troops headquartered in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri will change as a result.
The Russian base has up to 5,000 troops, more than a hundred tanks and armored personnel carries, S-300 air defense missiles as well as a squadron of MiG-29 fighter jets. Just last week, Armenia’s parliament ratified a Russian-Armenian agreement extending Russia’s basing rights by 24 years, until 2044.
The Russian troop presence has been a major element of the national security doctrines of successive Armenian governments. The agreement signed in August upgraded its mission and committed Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry.
Armenia -- Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov (second from left), commander of Russian ground forces, meets with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, 20Apr2011.
Hence, the significance of the Georgian parliament’s decision on Tuesday not to renew a Russian-Georgian agreement on military transit that was signed in 2006. The move was initiated by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The AFP news agency quoted Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze as saying that renewing the five-year agreement wouldn’t be “politically expedient” due to the “Russian aggression” that led to a brief war in August 2008.
Karapetian would not say whether the Russian army chief discussed the development with Ohanian and top Armenian army generals. He also declined to voice official Yerevan’s reaction to it.
Karapetian expressed confidence instead that Tbilisi’s decision will not lead to any “change in Armenia’s security environment.” “Nor could it reflect, in any way, on the combat readiness of the Armenian Armed Forces,” he said.
Incidentally, the Georgian parliament vote came one day after Georgia’s Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia paid his first-ever official visit to Yerevan. Neither Akhalaia, nor Ohanian mentioned the Russian military presence in Armenia in public statements made after their talks.
Georgia already effectively closed its airspace to Russian transport planes delivering military equipment and personnel to the Gyumri base following the 2008 war in South Ossetia. Russian and Armenian military sources told RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the time the Russian military is now forced to re-route those supplies via Iran and even Azerbaijan.
Whether the Russian military transit through Georgia resumed in 2009 or later on is not known.