Russia and Armenia are planning to create a joint group of forces in the Caucasus region, according to a draft document published on Russia’s official web portal of legal information on Tuesday.
The document states that a Unified Command structure will be created to manage the force, which will be established “to ensure the security of parties in the Caucasus region.”
The group’s prerogatives will include repelling any armed attack on either party, as well as defending the state borders of Armenia and Russia.
Studying the document, Sputnik Armenia explained that the commander of the unit will be appointed and dismissed by the Supreme Commander of the Armenian Armed Forces – the country’s president, in agreement with the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces (Russia’s president).
Once signed, the agreement will be valid for five years, and be automatically renewed unless one of the parties expresses a desire to abrogate it.
The process for ensuring the group’s combat readiness, subordination of national elements to Joint Command, its deployment and use is defined by the Regulations on the Joint Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
Instructions on the operational management of the group to its commander will be defined by the Russian Southern Military District and the operational command of the Armenian General Staff, and then signed off on by the Chief of Staff of both countries.
According to the agreement, in peacetime, the commander of the group will be subordinated to the Armenian General Staff; in wartime he may be subordinated to the commander of the Russian Southern Military District.
The document has been submitted to the Russian president for signature.
Russia and Armenia are both parties to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a defensive alliance of six countries formed in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union to ensure regional security.
The significance of a joint group of forces is exemplified by Armenia’s strategic position in the Caucasus.
The small, landlocked country borders Azerbaijan to its east.
The region saw clashes between the two countries in spring 2016 over Nagorny-Karabakh, a contested territory which Yerevan and Baku have fought over since the late 1980s.
To Armenia’s west is Turkey, a country Yerevan has had difficult relations with for decades, caused mainly by Ankara’s continued refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917.
To the country’s southeast is Iran; relations with Tehran are positive, and benefited by the growing strategic ties between Iran and Russia.
Finally, to its north is Georgia. Armenia’s relations with that country have generally been cordial, but complicated by Tbilisi’s aspirations to join NATO.
Benefits to Armenia
“Under this agreement, we shall be able, when carrying our regional air defense tasks, to use Russian fourth-generation multi-role jet fighters, S-300 systems, their anti-missile and radar capabilities for aerial reconnaissance,” Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan told the country’s public television station Armenia 1.
Armenia already hosts Russia’a 102ndMilitary Base in Gyumri.
The base is the home of the 988th Surface-to-Air Missile Regiment, which is equipped with an S-300V missile system as well as the relevant aircraft detection, tracking and missile guidance radars.
Tank, motor-rifle and artillery units are also based there.
There are three MiG-29 squadrons deployed in the region, which if necessary can intercept enemy aircraft and, together with surface-to-air missile units, provide Armenia with effective air defense.
The Russian units will support Yerevan’s own substantial air defense capabilities, which include Soviet-made SAM systems such as the S-125 Neva with a range of up to 12 miles, the Krug with a range of 27 miles, the newer and more modern S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems with a range of 93 miles and the short-range missile systems Osa-AKM, Shilka, Strela-10, and Igla.
Once joined with the Russian air defense system, the Armenian Air Defense Troops will have access to all the information available to Russian Southern Military District units and the country’s air and missile defense troops.
However, the air defense above Nagorno-Karabakh will remain the remit of the Armenian Defense Ministry; Russian air defense systems will not be involved there.
Benefits for Russia
“Russia and Armenia do not have common airspace, they are separated by Georgia.
The joining together of their air defense systems will allow Moscow to create an additional ‘air defense umbrella’ beyond its borders,” said former deputy air defense commander of the Russian Ground Troops, Lt. Gen Alexander Luzan (ret.).
He added that the new agreement will be an additional check on Turkey, which is both the strongest military power in the region and has the backing of NATO.
“We know from experience what Ankara may do even without Brussels’ approval or contrary to its wishes.
Whereas, a joint Russian-Armenian air defense system will become a serious warning to it,” Luzan said, noting that the 102nd Military Base had already acted as a deterrent to Turkish moves in the region.
Armenia is also on the frontline of air and missile defense for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The new Armenia-Russia agreement will act in cooperation with other agreements already in place between CSTO countries, including a joint air defense system of the Western region (Belarus-Russia) and a joint air defense system of the Central Asian region (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia).
“The establishment of a joint CSTO air defense system is a strategically important decision. Furthermore, Russia, Armenia, Belarus and other CSTO countries are creating a single radar field, which should ensure air defense against threats posed by NATO member states, and Turkey in particular,” said Lt. Gen Norat Ter-Grigoryants (ret.), a former deputy chief of staff of the USSR Ground Troops and one of the founders of the Armenian Armed Forces.