In a further boost to its close defense links with Armenia, Russia has agreed to increase the number of Armenian cadets and officers studying at Russian military academies.
“The increase in military personnel training for Yerevan is the realization of the Armenian army’s needs to fill command positions,” Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said this week.
“We will train as many [personnel] as Armenia needs,” Bordyuzha told a news conference in Moscow.
Russia has been a key provider of free education and training for Armenian military personnel ever since the Soviet collapse. As of 2014, as many as 250 Armenians were reportedly enrolled in its military academies. This figure is comparable to the total number of cadets graduating from Armenia’s own military colleges annually.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu reportedly pledged to step up this assistance when he met with his Armenian counterpart Seyran Ohanian in Yerevan on August 16.
“At the moment, 203 Armenian servicemen are studying free of charge at 24 academies of Russia’s Defense Ministry,” Shoygu’s deputy Anatoly Antonov said after those talks. “They all are receiving quality education.”
“This year we will admit another 211 people [from Armenia,]” added Antonov.
Russia has also been main supplier of weapons to the Armenian army. Membership in the CSTO, a defense alliance of six ex-Soviet states, entitles Yerevan to receiving them at discount prices or even for free.
In Bordyuzha’s words, the free training of Armenian military personnel also stems from that membership. Russia has military education quotas for all of its ex-Soviet allies, he said.
The Russian-Armenian military ties have been clouded in recent years by billions of dollars worth of offensive weapons which Moscow has sold to Azerbaijan. The Armenian government stepped up its criticism of the Russian arms sales to its arch-foe following last April’s four-day hostilities around Nagorno-Karabakh that nearly escalated into an all-out war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly dismissed the Armenian criticism after holding talks in Moscow with President Serzh Sarkisian on August 10. In that regard, Putin also pointed to the Russian military aid to Armenia.
Despite its frustration with the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals, Yerevan continued to step up military cooperation with Moscow after the April fighting in Karabakh. In particular, it pressed the Russians to speed up the delivery of new weapons to the Armenian military. Yerevan is to pay for them with a $200 million Russian loan allocated in 2015.
In June, the Armenian parliament ratified a controversial Russian-Armenian agreement on the creation of a new system of joint air defense. Pro-Western critics of the Armenian government condemned it as a serious threat to Armenia’s independence and even security.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan has dismissed those claims, saying an Armenian army general will command all air-defense forces deployed within Armenia. Those include sophisticated S-300 and Buk surface-to-air missiles as well as MiG-29 fighter jets that are part of the Russian military base in Armenia. According to the ministry, the Armenian military will also gain access to Russian spy satellite data.
The two sides further plan to a sign a new deal on a joint contingent of Russian and Armenian troops that has operated in Armenia for more than a decade. No details of the planned deal, which Shoygu and Ohanian discussed in Yerevan, have been made public yet.