The commander-in-chief of Russia’s ground forces, Colonel-General Vladimir Chirkin, has visited Armenia to meet with the country’s top military officials and inspect Russian troops deployed there.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said on Friday that Chirkin held talks with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Colonel-General Yuri Khachaturov, during the three-day visit that ended on Thursday.
A ministry statement said they discussed “a wide range of issues” related to the Russian military base in Armenia and broader Russian-Armenian military cooperation. It said Chirkin arrived in Armenia to inspect the base and help its commanders prepare for “a new academic year.”
Chirkin toured Russian military facilities in Gyumri and Yerevan for that purpose. The Regnum news agency quoted a Russian military spokesperson as saying that the general examined the combat readiness, weaponry and morale of the troops.
The Russian base is believed to have between 4,000 and 5,000 troops. It is equipped with hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery systems as well as sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missiles and a squadron of MiG-29 fighter jets. Its presence in Armenia has been a key element of Yerevan’s national security doctrine.
The base has been undergoing what the Russian military calls a “reorganization” since the beginning of last year. This has involved a redeployment of some of its detachments.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov discussed the process with Ohanian when he visited Yerevan last month. “We are transferring about 10 facilities to the Armenian side,” Serdyukov said after the talks.
In an apparently related development, the Russian Defense Ministry announced in June that it will double this year the number of its soldiers serving in Armenia on a contractual basis.
A spokesman for Russia’s Southern Military District, which encompasses the Gyumri-headquartered base, said on Tuesday that the frequency of exercises and other training activities by the Russian forces in Armenia has increased this year. The official, Kirill Kiselev, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that this is not connected with recent developments in the region and simply stems from Russia’s broader efforts to strengthen its armed forces.