An Armenian army contingent is taking part in military exercises in northwestern Russia simulating a joint response by Moscow and its ex-Soviet allies to an imaginary armed conflict in “the Eastern European region.”
The drills, which began on Sunday in the Pskov region close to the Baltic states, have brought together more than 2,000 troops making up a rapid reaction force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led alliance of six ex-Soviet states. They are reportedly backed up by 200 tanks and other armored vehicles as well as 40 Russian warplanes and combat helicopters.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry did not specify the number of participating Armenian troops in a statement that announced their departure to Pskov on Saturday. A military source in Yerevan said the contingent comprises no more than 100 soldiers.
In a statement on Sunday, the CSTO Secretariat in Moscow said that the rapid reaction troops, at least half of them Russian paratroopers, will simulate a “joint operation on localizing an armed conflict with the aim of restoring the territorial integrity and protecting the constitutional order of an imaginary CSTO member state.” That will include “liquidation of irregular armed formations,” it said.
The statement stressed that the scenario of the exercises is “not tied to the actual military-political situation” and that the CSTO force will only be practicing a joint deployment in “the Eastern European region of collective security.”
The Pskov region borders Estonia and Latvia, NATO member states that have long had strained relations with Russia. The conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s resulting standoff with the West have only exacerbated those tensions.
Early this month NATO launched what it described as its largest airborne exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The four-week drills codenamed “Swift Response” are taking place in Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Romania, involving 5,000 soldiers from the United States and 10 other NATO member states. They will culminate on Wednesday in a mass paratrooper drop in Germany.
The CSTO’s deputy secretary general, Valery Semerikov, insisted on Monday that the Russian-led exercises are not connected with the NATO war games. “I wouldn’t like our exercises to be viewed as a counterweight to the ongoing NATO exercises in western states,” he said, according to the TASS news agency. “Our exercises were planned last year.”
As tensions between Moscow and Western powers rose last year, Nikolay Bordyuzha, the CSTO’s Russian secretary general, claimed that the Russian-led bloc’s member states have decided to stop cooperating with NATO and turn to China instead. The Armenian government effectively denied that and made clear that it will continue to deepen ties with the U.S.-led alliance.
Those ties have been developing in accordance with an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) launched a decade ago and repeatedly updated since then. The IPAP commits Armenia to implementing defense reforms aimed at bringing its armed forces into greater conformity with NATO standards. It also calls for Armenian participation for NATO-led multinational military missions. More than 150 Armenians have been serving in such missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Meeting with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian in Brussels in May 2014, then NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Ramussen praised Armenia’s “strong partnership” with the alliance.