YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russia officially admitted that its sophisticated S-300 air-defense missiles were being deployed in Armenia to upgrade the weaponry of its military base and ward off "threats from Turkey," Snark news agency reported on Thursday quoting Russian officials.
Col.-Gen. Anatolii Kornukov told the agency that "the deployment of the S-300 air-defense missile systems in the Russian military base in Armenia is carried out within the framework of its planned re-armament." He at the same time added that the missiles will aim to prevent a possible violation of Armenia’s air space by Turkish or NATO aircraft based in Turkey.
"There exists a real threat from Turkey where–apart from the Turkish planes–there are also stationed NATO ones–which bomb Iraq practically every day. We cannot rule out the possibility of their erroneous or seemingly erroneous flights into the territory of Armenia," Kornukov said.
"The air-defense systems will enable us to give an adequate response if necessary," he said.
Kornukov is the first Russian official to confirm the S-300s’ deployment in Armenia. Reports about their deployment emerged last summer following a high-profile visit to Armenia of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev.
S-300 is known for their precision and long fire distance. Last year Turkey threatened to use force to prevent supplies of the Russian missiles to hostile Cyprus. It remains to be seen how Ankara will react to their deployment in another country with which it has strained relations. Armenia regards Turkey as the number one threat to its security and the presence of Russian troops is a key element in its defense doctrine. The two neighboring states have no diplomatic relations and open land border.
Ankara makes a normalization of ties contingent on Yerevan’s acceptance of Azeri sovereignty over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan has vigorously protested against Russia’s growing military ties with Armenia. But Moscow has insisted that the new weapons are designed for its troops in Armenia only and will not be used by Yerevan in the Karabakh conflict.
The Russian general said "components" of the air-defense system are being transported to Armenia by air without specifying when they will be ready for action. Kornukov arrived in Armenia on Wednesday–to discuss measures aimed at the integration of the two countries’ air defense systems. Armenia and Russia are both signatories of the 1992 Collective Security Treaty which binds together most of the former Soviet republics.
Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan signaled last month their intentions to pull out of the defense grouping.
Kornukov and the top command of the Armenian armed forces on Thursday attended an official ceremony marking the first "test flights" of Russian MiG-29 aircraft deployed in Armenia last December. Kornukov described the event as a "historic moment," while Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan called it a "great day," according to Snark. Officials say the jets will be part of a joint Russian-Armenian air-defense system and will start regularly patrolling Armenia’s air space next month.