YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russian troops stationed in Armenia could openly side with it in case of a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh, according to their top commander, Colonel Andrey Ruzinsky.
“If Azerbaijan decides to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh by force the [Russian] military base may join in the armed conflict in accordance with the Russian Federation’s obligations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),” Ruzinksy told the Russian Defense Ministry’s “Krasnaya Zvezda” newspaper in a recent interview.
Ruzinksy answered a question about the mission of the Russian base headquartered in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri.
That mission was upgraded by a Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in 2010. The agreement extended Russia’s basing rights in Armenia until 2044. It also committed Moscow to supplying its South Caucasus ally with more weapons and military hardware.
The Russian base, which numbers between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers, has since been bolstered with modern weaponry, reportedly including Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles. The Russian military also plans to deploy combat helicopters there soon. The Russian air force unit in Armenia currently has 16 MiG-29 fighter jets.
Armenian officials and pro-government politicians have claimed before that the 2010 defense pact mandates direct Russian military involvement in the Karabakh conflict if Azerbaijan acts on its threats to reconquer the disputed territory. Russian officials have not explicitly confirmed this in their public statements made until now.
The Russian troops in Armenia hold joint exercises and trainings with Armenian army units on a regular basis. Around a thousand soldiers from the two armies, backed up tanks, helicopters and artillery systems, practiced a joint military operation as recently as in August.
According to Ruzinsky, more such war games are planned for next year. “I believe that we need to further develop our field cooperation, if I may put it way,” he said.
The Russian base commander also revealed to “Krasnaya Zvezda” that a group of his senior officers and their Armenian colleagues recently jointly toured “areas of combat engagement.” “We plan to increase such activities next year,” he said without elaborating.