By Hrach Melkumian
Underscoring their close defense ties, Armenia and Russia began on Tuesday regular joint military exercises near Yerevan involving hundreds of troops, military hardware and air force.
Officials said elements of Armenia’s Fifth Army Corps and the Russian military base stationed in the country will practice military operations and try to improve their interoperability during the three-day maneuvers. They said the troops will fire live rounds from light and heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopter gunships.
“We are strategic partners and have a cooperation plan for 2004 singed by our defense ministers. The holding of such events is part of it,” Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, chief of staff of the Armenian armed forces, told RFE/RL.
“We have held such joint exercises for the last several years,” he said. “They are not directed against any other third country. Their aim is to improve the combat readiness and cooperation of the Armenian Armed Forces and 102nd Russian military base.”
The military alliance with Russia is a key component of Armenia’s national security doctrine which sees a military threat from neighboring Turkey. Russia has been the main source of external arms supplies and training for the Armenian military for over a decade.
Harutiunian added that Armenia stands ready to hold similar exercises with “other countries,” apparently alluding to Yerevan’s growing participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Armenia hosted a first-ever NATO-led exercise on its soil in June 2002 and intends to take part in similar drills to be held in Azerbaijan next month.