Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian thanked Russia for its “huge” military assistance to Armenia as the two allied countries formally set up a new Russian-Armenian air defense system on Wednesday.
Ohanian and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu signed an agreement on the creation of the “united regional system of air defense in the Caucasus region of collective security” after talks held in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized his government to sign the deal in October.
The Russian and Armenian militaries have been jointly protecting Armenia’s airspace ever since the mid-1990s. Their integrated air defense system was given a “regional” status by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 2007.
Around that time, the Russian military trained Armenian officers to operate S-300 anti-aircraft systems. Some Armenian defense analysts suggested that Moscow is keen to extend the geographic span of the joint air defenses to the entire South Caucasus. Those consist of not only Armenian and Russian anti-aircraft weapons but also more than a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets that are part of the Russian military base in Armenia.
It is not yet clear how the new “regional system” will differ from the existing one and whether it will operate within the framework of the CSTO. Russia has already created such systems with Belarus and Kazakhstan and is reportedly planning to sign similar deals with the two other CSTO member states: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The deal signed in Moscow underscored Russia’s close military ties with Armenia. They have enabled Armenia to receive large quantities of Russian weapons at discount prices or free of charge.
A statement by the Russian Defense Ministry quoted Ohanian as telling Shoygu: “I want to thank you for the huge assistance which you have provided in terms of military-technical cooperation and supplies of military items. They are very important to us.”
“I must say that thanks to your efforts and efforts by Russian military officials -- our friends -- 2015 has been a special year,” said Ohanian.
According to the statement, Shoygu said, for his part, that Russia and Armenia have fully implemented a 2015 plan of bilateral military cooperation. He said it included the conduct of joint military exercises and an “additional enrollment” of Armenian cadets and officers in Russian military academies.
In June 2015, the Russian government provided Yerevan with a $200 million loan that will be spent on the purchase of more Russian-made weapons for Armenia’s armed forces. Shortly afterwards, a Russian official revealed that the two sides are negotiating on the delivery of advanced Russian Iskander-M missiles to the Armenian army.
With a firing range of up to 500 kilometers, the Iskander-M systems would have significant implications for the military balance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They would make Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas infrastructure even more vulnerable to Armenian missile strikes in the event of a renewed war for Karabakh. Russia has not exported such missiles to any foreign state so far.
While remaining committed to the military alliance with Russia, Armenian leaders have been increasingly critical of Moscow’s arms deals with Baku. The Azerbaijani military has received at least $4 billion worth of Russian weapons since 2010.
“The fact that Russia sells weapons to Azerbaijan for various reasons worries us,” President Serzh Sarkisian said in March.
Incidentally, Shoygu on Wednesday also received Azerbaijan’s Defense Minsiter Zakir Hasanov, who was visiting Moscow to take part in a meeting of the defense chiefs of ex-Soviet states. According to the Azerbaijani APA news agency, the two men signed a plan of joint activities by the Russian and Azerbaijani militaries for 2016.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately issue a statement on Shoygu’s talks with Hasanov.