GYUMRI, Armenia (RFE/RL)—Around 3,000 Russian troops stationed in Armenia have begun weeklong military exercises involving hundreds of tanks and artillery systems as well as warplanes.
According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, the main purpose of the unusually large-scale exercises is to “test the combat readiness” of the Russian military base in Armenia in cases of “the highest state of alert.”
A statement released by the ministry’s Southern Military District late last week said that artillery units involved in the war games will fire as many as 30,000 shells at two Armenian shooting ranges. The participating troops will also be backed up by Russian MiG-29 fighter jets based at a military airfield in Yerevan, it said.
The statement also reported a more than fourfold increase this year in “the number of exercises and use of live ammunition” by the Russian base headquartered in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri.
Moscow has reinforced the base with more modern military hardware in recent years. Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected it at the start of a state visit to Armenia last December.
The latest exercises got underway on Monday more than a month after some 1,500 Armenian and Russian soldiers simulated joint military operations against an imaginary common enemy dubbed “Ottomania” by their commanders, a clear reference to Turkey. Those annual drills also involved heavy artillery, tanks and MiG-29 jets.