Russia will replace its 18 MiG-29 fighter jets stationed in Armenia with more sophisticated and powerful aircraft, it was reported on Tuesday
Citing an unnamed official in the Defense Ministry in Moscow, the TASS news agency said the Russian military will start deploying Sukhoi Su-30SM jets to the Erebuni airbase in Yerevan next year.
“The delivery of the aircraft will be carried out in two phases: in 2020 and 2021,” the said the unnamed source. “It is planned that all 18 MiG-29s, which are currently flown by pilots of the airbase, will be replaced by Su-30SMs.”
Su-30SM is a modernized version of a heavy fighter jet developed by the Sukhoi company in the late 1980s. The Russian military received the first batch of such aircraft in 2012. It can carry much heavier and more wide-ranging rockets and has more advanced electronic equipment than MiG-29, which was designed in the 1970s.
The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Sergey Kopyrkin, did not deny or confirm the TASS report when he spoke to journalists later on Tuesday. “I am not prepared to talk about this subject in detail,” Kopyrkin said, according to the Sputnik news agency.
For its part, Armenia’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on the possible deployment of Su-30SM aircraft, saying that Moscow has made no official statements to that effect.
An Armenian government source told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Yerevan would welcome such a deployment because Su-30SM is more modern than the aging MiG-29s that are part of the Russian military base in Armenia. The MiG-29s were modernized by the Russian Air Force several years ago.
The Russia base headquartered in Gyumri is in turn part of Russia’s Southern Military District. The district commander, Colonel-General Alexander Dvornikov, met with the visiting chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Lieutenant-General Artak Davtian, on April 19.
According to the Armenia Defense Ministry, the two generals discussed “joint combat readiness activities.” A ministry statement said Dvornikov also praised the most recent Russian-Armenian military exercises that were held at a training ground 50 kilometers west of Yerevan on April 1-12.
Earlier this year, Moscow and Yerevan signed a contract for the delivery of four Sukhoi Su-30SM jets to Armenia. Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said in February that the Armenian military will receive them by the beginning of 2020. It plans to buy more such aircraft in the following years, he said.
Financial details of the fighter jet deal remain unknown. Membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) entitles Armenia to buying Russian weapons at discounted prices.