Russian First Deputy Defense Minister Ruslan Tsalikov described Armenia as Russia’s key regional ally and heaped praise on the Armenian military as he visited the South Caucasus state over the weekend.
Tsalikov met with Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian late on Saturday after attending official ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Armenia’s Armed Forces.
“On behalf of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, Ruslan Tsalikov congratulated Sargsian on the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Armenian national army and noted that Russia now regards Armenia as its key ally in the Transcaucasus,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“During this [25-year] period the republic has created armed forces capable of effectively confronting existing threats to military security in the region and ensuring Armenia’s defense at a high level,” the statement quoted him as telling Sargsian.
Tsalikov went on to praise Russia’s “successful” military cooperation with Armenia both in a bilateral format and within the framework of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Tsalikov used the trip to inspect the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri. He described the base as a “guarantor of regional security” at the meeting with Sargsian. “This is yet another indicator of the level of our alliance,” he added, according to the statement.
The Armenian minister was similarly reported to say that the Russian troops stationed in Armenia as well as broader military ties between the two nations are “important factors for ensuring regional security and stability.”
An Armenian Defense Ministry statement said Sargsian and Tsalikov discussed “the almost entire scope of current issues” on the bilateral security agenda. It did not elaborate.
The Russian base is thought to comprise 5,000 soldiers, hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery systems as well as around dozen MiG-29 fighter jets. Moscow has bolstered it with helicopter gunships and other military hardware since a 2010 Russian-Armenian agreement extended the Russian troop presence until 2044. The agreement also upgraded the security mandate of the base.
Some of the Russian troops in Armenia and soldiers from an Armenian army corps make up a Russian-Armenian military force set up in 2000. Shoygu and Sargsian formally agreed in November last year to reinforce “the united group of troops.” It is still not clear whether the joint contingent will be enlarged as a result.