YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Russia’s and Armenia’s top army generals met in Moscow over the weekend as troops from the two countries began a joint military exercise near the Armenian-Turkish border.
Lieutenant-General Onik Gasparyan, the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, held talks with his Russian opposite number, General Valery Gerasimov, after attending the closing ceremony of the annual International Army Games organized by the Russian Defense Ministry.
Official Armenian and Russian sources said the two men discussed close military ties between their nations but gave very few details.
In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry cited Gerasimov as calling Armenia Russia’s “ally and key partner in the Transcaucasus.” For his part, Gasparyan described Russia as his country’s “strategic ally” and stressed the “special significance” of Russian-Armenian relations for Yerevan.
According to the statement, he also thanked the Russian military for helping to contain the spread of the coronavirus among Armenian and Russian military personnel serving in Armenia. Moscow sent a team of Russian army medics and special equipment to the South Caucasus state for that purpose in April.
Later on Saturday, Russia’s Southern Military District announced the start of a fresh Russian-Armenian exercise held at two training grounds in northwestern Armenia. It said the drill will involve about a thousand soldiers of the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri, 200 tanks, artillery systems and other military hardware as well as two dozen Russian and Armenian warplanes.
A statement released by Russia’s Southern Military District on Monday said Russian MiG-29 fighter jets engaged in imaginary dogfights with enemy aircraft and struck ground targets as part of defensive and offensive operations simulated by the two militaries. It said the jets, which are normally stationed in Yerevan, then landed at an airfield in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city located just 10 kilometers from the Turkish border.
The Armenian Defense Ministry did not issue any statements on the drill as of Monday afternoon.
Armenia hosts up to 5,000 Russian soldiers as part of its military alliance with Russia. Successive Armenian governments have regarded the Russian military presence as a crucial deterrent against Turkey’s possible military intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The likelihood of such intervention appears to have increased after deadly hostilities that broke out on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in July. Turkey blamed Armenia for the escalation and pledged to boost Turkish military aid to Azerbaijan.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on July 16 that the Armenians “will certainly pay for what they have done” to his country’s main regional ally. In what appears to be a related development, Turkish and Azerbaijani troops held last month joint two-week exercises in various parts of Azerbaijan.
The Armenian government responded by accusing Ankara of undercutting international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict and posing a serious security threat to Armenia. Armen Grigorian, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, said on August 2 that Yerevan counts on Moscow’s support in its efforts to counter that threat.
Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan clearly alluded to Turkey when he denounced the “expansion of some countries’ ambitions” in the South Caucasus in a speech delivered in Moscow last Friday.
“The Russian presence in the region as well as the deepening of military-political cooperation between Armenia and Russia are a very important deterring factor that helps to maintain regional stability and security,” Tonoyan said at a meeting of the defense ministers of several former ex-Soviet states, China, India and other countries.
Tonoyan addressed the meeting during what was his second visit to Moscow in less than two weeks. He met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and attended the opening ceremony of the International Army Games on August 23.