Hundreds of Russian and Armenian soldiers have simulated a joint military operation against an invading enemy during annual military exercises held in central Armenia.
The exercises ended late last week at the Alagyaz shooting range near the northern slopes of Mount Aragats, involving troops that are part of a joint Russian-Armenian military force formed more than a decade ago.
“The purpose of the exercises was to coordinate the actions of Armenian and Russian troops during hypothetical hostilities,” the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a weekend statement.
Photographs released by the ministry showed the troops practicing defensive and counteroffensive operations with the help of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery systems firing live rounds.
The statement said that under the scenario of the drills, they repelled an aggression unleashed against Armenia by an imaginary enemy. The Armenian and Russian soldiers demonstrated “a high degree of interaction” during the war games, it added.
The Armenian and Russian militaries have held such exercises on an annual basis. In 2014, they targeted an imaginary invader codenamed “Ottomania,” a clear reference to neighboring Turkey.
Armenian leaders have repeatedly said that Armenia hosts Russian troops on its territory primarily because of a perceived security threat from Turkey, rather than Azerbaijan. From Yerevan’s perspective, the Russian military base in Armenia precludes Turkey’s direct military intervention on Azerbaijan’s side in the event of another full-scale war for Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Russian-Armenian contingent holding such drills comprises servicemen of the Armenian army’s Fifth Corps and the Russian base headquartered in Gyumri. Moscow and Yerevan plan to a sign soon a new agreement on the status of their joint military force.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu discussed the planned deal with Armenian leaders when he visited Yerevan in August. None of its details have been made public yet.
Earlier this year, 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 denounced it as a serious threat to Armenia’s independence.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan 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.