Russia Announces Upgrades To CSTO Military Presence In Armenia
Russia has promised to upgrade its military base in Armenia, while also helping to bolster Armenia's own air forces, as controversy continues to brew in Armenia over Moscow's huge weapons delivery to foe Azerbaijan. It's not clear to what extent the former is tied to the latter, but Armenian analysts say that Russia does appear to be trying to assuage public opinion among Armenians stung by Russia's apparent betrayal.
Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Nikolay Bordyuzha was in Armenia last week, and though details were scarce, he appeared to endorse a CSTO base in that country, as well as creating a Caucasus-based CSTO air force. Reported RIA Novosti:
Modernization of Russia’s 102nd Military Base at Gyumri, in northern Armenia near its border with Turkey, and the airbase at Yerevan’s Erebuni Airport will begin this year and continue for several years, Artur Bagdasaryan, head of the National Security Council, said after a meeting with Nikolai Bordyuzha.
And from RFE/RL:
“Collective security forces are being formed in the South Caucasus region where Armenia is the sole CSTO member state. Joint air forces will also be set up here,” explained Baghdasarian.
“Armenia’s air force will be expanded,” he told a joint news conference with Bordyuzha. “Not only the air force but also the air-defense system in general will be modernized and re-equipped. The Russian military base [in Armenia] will also re-equipped. In terms of modernization, 2014 will be a very important year.”
The Bug Pit spoke with Sergey Minasyan, a Yerevan-based analyst who took part in last week's meetings, and asked him about what this all meant. He said the plans for the joint air force weren't clear, in particular where it would be based -- in the North Caucasus or in Armenia. He speculated that CSTO military transport aircraft might be based in the Russian Caucasus, while air defense units, as well as possibly MiG-29 interceptors and surface-to-air missile units, would be based in Armenia. He also guessed that the modernization of Armenia's air force was likely related to this CSTO air unit, for example helping to integrate Armenia's command-and-control system with the CSTO one.
Those moves, in addition to the deployment of advanced missiles to Russia's base at Gyumri, are at least in part an attempt to dissuade Azerbaijan from attacking, Minasyan said. The political elite of Armenia is not worried about the large Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan, noting that it happens regularly and that Armenians have never had illusions about Russian loyalty. (For more detailed analysis of Armenian policy regarding Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan, see this very smart interview with Emil Sanamyan on Voice of America.) Nevertheless, the visit of Bordyuzha and other top Russian military officials to Yerevan last week was a sign that "Russia knows it needed to do something visible" to reassure Armenians of the Kremlin's support, Minasyan said.
It appears that this could be a roughly analogous development to the basing of joint CSTO air forces in Kyrgyzstan. But we'll have to wait for more details.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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