Russia’s Air Force began on Thursday what it called a “tactical” exercise in Armenia involving about 20 warplanes and helicopters that were deployed at an air base in Yerevan late last year.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the MiG-29 fighter jets and Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters are practicing coordinated actions in support of ground troops operating in mountainous terrain. They are also simulating attacks on air targets flying “at different altitudes in daytime and at night,” a ministry statement said.
More than 200 Russian pilots and other military personnel are taking part in the drills, according to the statement. They are part of a Russian military contingent headquartered in the Armenian city of Gyumri.
In recent years, Russia has reinforced its troops in Armenia with more advanced weapons and 13 military helicopters. The choppers were deployed at the Erebuni air base in Yerevan as recently as in December. In addition, the Russian military has modernized more than a dozen MiG-29s also stationed at Erebuni.
The Russian jets protect Armenia’s airspace together with the Armenian army’s anti-aircraft units equipped with sophisticated S-300 missile systems. Also in December, Moscow and Yerevan signed a new accord that upgraded the joint air-defense system.
The Russian Air Force drills come more than a month after an escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that threatened to degenerate into a full-blown Armenian-Azerbaijani war.