In a further expansion of its military presence in Armenia, Russia has begun the deployment of new combat helicopters to an airbase just outside Yerevan that has long been used by Russian warplanes.
Russia’s Southern Military District said on Tuesday that “the first batch” of helicopter gunships delivered to Russian troops in Armenia consists of 7 modernized Mi-24 attack helicopters and Mi-8 transport choppers. “Another batch of helicopters will be delivered by the end of this year,” it said in a statement.
The Russian military announced plans to reinforce its base in Armenia with about two dozen helicopters in January 2014. It said they will have “a wide range of tasks in aviation support for troops and transportation” of Russian military personnel.
The Armenian government formally authorized the deployment in November 2013. It also set aside two plots of land for the Russian helicopter squadron. They are located in and around the Erebuni military airport that hosts more than a dozen Russian MiG-29 fighter jets as well as Armenian military aircraft. The Russian jets were modernized in 2013-2014.
The Russian base numbering up to 5,000 soldiers has also been beefed up with other advanced military hardware in recent years. It latest reinforcement coincided with Russia’s bitter row with Turkey sparked by last month’s downing of a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border.
The standoff has raised fears in Yerevan that Armenia, which has a closed border with Turkey, could be drawn into a potential military confrontation between the two regional powers. Turkish military helicopters reportedly twice violated the Armenian airspace in early October, just days after Ankara accused Russian warplanes of straying into Turkish territory from Syria.
Even before the outbreak of Russian-Turkish tensions, Armenia perceived a threat to its security emanating from Turkey. From Yerevan’s perspective, the Russian military presence on Armenian soil also precludes Turkey’s direct military intervention on Azerbaijan’s side in the event of another war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian and Russian troops targeted an imaginary invader codenamed “Ottomania” when they held annual joint exercises last year.