Military Build-up of Armenia and Russian Policy Opportunities in Transcaucasia

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On the 14th January 2013 Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, issued the Decree No. 7 r-p, which state following: “1. To approve the government's proposal to hold talks with Armenia to sign an agreement to develop military cooperation, and 2. The government to sign the above-mentioned agreement with Armenia upon the completion of the talks”.(1)

What is the Political Sense of the President Decree?

The Decree of 14th January seems to be an excessive and unnecessary step when all the existing agreements and accords of political, industrial and military ties Russia has already concluded with the Republic of Armenia remembered. The 102nd Russian military base has been deployed in Gyumri since 1995. Treaty of the Base was signed for 25 years and was extended for another 49 years, till 2044, when President Medvedev visited Armenia in 2010. Then, this new Decree promulgated by President Putin related to military cooperation with Armenia must obviously serve to attain some far-reaching political aims.   

First of all, Armenia elected its President on February 18 and the Decree, presumably, had to do something to assist Serge Sarkisyan politically in the elections. Although indirect, this assistance sent a clear message to all states of Transcaucasia and Central Asia that Armenia under Serge Sarkisyan remains to be the most reliable strategic partner of Russia in the region.     

Secondly, the Decree proclaimed can be explained by complicated geopolitical situation in the Greater Caucasus and in the Near and Middle East: Syrian crisis, Iranian nuclear issue, unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and some other problems. These negative developments make the Russian Federation to guard its interests and its presence in allied Armenia in various fields via using a variety of instruments, including military, pure diplomacy and soft power politics. Russian experts in the field, particularly Anatoly Tsyganok, who is the Director of Moscow Center for Military Prognosis, openly recognize this fact. (2)

It is interesting to note that after few days President Putin issued the Decree, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu paid an official visit to Armenia. Shoigu met with President Serge Sarkisyan and held detailed negotiations with his Armenian counterpart, Seyran Ohanyan. On January 29, Minister Ohanyan met with Sergey Shoigu at the Ministry of Defense. After the official welcoming ceremony at the administrative complex of Ministry the military delegations of both countries had a comprehensive meeting, which was followed by a joint press conference of both ministers’.

Minister Ohanyan informed that during the meeting they discussed issues of international and regional security, military and military-technical cooperation and Russian base located in Armenia. He also expressed confidence that the visit of the Russian delegation will spur the development of Armenian-Russian friendly relations in the defense sector and will foster regional friendship, cordial neighborly relations as well as strengthening stability and security. Minister Shoigu congratulated Armenian people on the 21st anniversary of the Armenian Army and noted that agreements were reached to enhance the strategic partnership in defense and military-technical fields and reminded that previous agreements were successfully implemented. Both sides pointed February 2013 to be a period of time to finish the planning of the joint Program of military-technical cooperation between two countries. However, it can be argued that the Joint Program is a long-term process to be realized after 2013. (3)


According to some Russian experts the negotiations took place in Yerevan may result in an increase of Russian military export to Armenia. For instance, Igor Korotchenko, Editor-in-Chief of the National Defense journal notes that an increase of Russian arms export to Armenia might be anticipated after the negotiations:

“Theoretically speaking, any cooperation schemes are possible. The question is: can Armenia absorb the proposed projects? Armenia is our strategic partner in Transcaucasia, very close to our country in all terms.  Russia is ready and will assist as it can, to the  Armed Forces of Armenia in terms of military education, technical assistance etc. And, of course, in terms of reinforcement of the Armed Forces of Armenia”.

On the other hand, military expert David Arutyunov evaluated the negotiations between two countries as a step that may lead one to expect both an increase in Russian arms export to Armenia and bilateral cooperation in defense industries. (4)

Russian Military Base in Gyumri

When analyzing the Decree of Putin we must look at dynamics of military preparedness that the 102nd Russian base in Armenian Gyumri has shown. 2012 and the first two months of 2013 have demonstrated an obvious strengthening of the base.

According to a representative of Russian Army Southern Military District, servicemen of the military base in Armenia had 25% more shooting practice in 2012 than in 2011. As he noted 400 shooting practice sessions, over 40 tactical exercises and a war game were held at highland training complexes of Alagyaz and Kamkhud. The Distirct representative further stressed that participation in joint Interaction – 2012 Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and military drills were among the most significant events in 2012 military training. He also noted that the intelligence units had participated twice in a 2-week alpinist training sessions at Armenian Armed Forces’ Pambak mountain center. (5)

In fact Russian and Armenian Defense Ministries as well as newspapers and journals continue to report of drills, training and arrival of professional officers at Gyumri military base. According to press circulations of January 15, 2013, tank units of the Russian military base in Armenia (Gyumri) conducted field exercises at training center of Alagyaz. As the press service of the Southern Military District reported; tank units practiced new tactics, crews of the T-72s performed at least 80 hours of comprehensive training sessions on driving military vehicles and at least 80 hours of fire training, and about half of these operations were held at night. (6)

On 11 February 2013 reported that field exercises have been launched at the Kamhud highland training center with intelligence units from the Russian military base stationed in Armenia. On same day Southern Military District press service announced that in the exercises will take place more than 200 scouts were to improve their skills in tactical, physical, special, fire training and fighting at an altitude of 1,500 meters for three weeks. The level of each scout's individual training will be evaluated during the course on concealed movement in the tactical field; spotting reconnaissance patrols in the units and platoons, organization and implementation of ambushes and raids, as well as the ability to swiftly overcome mountain slopes and ravines. Further details are reported about planed exercises, which include the information that the soldiers, for more effective reconnaissance, were to learn how to use various optical and opto-electronic devices for detecting objects belonging to an imaginary enemy. Special tactical exercises which will include live firing with a special reconnaissance battalion were to be held at the final stage of the field exercise. Once the field exercise is completed the special and reconnaissance legion of the military base will undergo a two-week mountain training course. (7)

On 14th February there was more news about Russian base in Armenia. Pilots of Russian Southern Military Region stationed in Armenia have made more than 100 training flights since early 2013, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on 14th February 2013. Due to this intensified exercises the average flight hours of each pilot reached around 10 hours. Defense Ministry statement also revealed that special attention has been paid to work out piloting techniques in low cloudy atmospheres, in case the need to fly in foggy low altitudes and mountainous areas. Thus, the pilots of the MiG-29 fighter jets made more than 50 air combat training maneuvers during individual sorties and groups at altitudes from 500 to 8000 feet. (8)

On 21st February there were news reporting that a number of activities has been held to improve the survivability of artillery units in "conventional" combat skills, in standard weaponry and in military and special equipment. As part of field training in the base, military training tasks worked on conditional defeat of single and group goals of self-propelled howitzers (carnation), multiple launch rocket systems (grad), mortars and anti-tank guided missiles (konkurs). Further in trainings, gun crews completed their tasks of fire damage objects of imaginary enemy, actively applying attack tactics by using Folds Mountains. Reports also stated that special attention was paid to the ability of commanders at all levels to make decisions wisely when entering unscheduled tasks and goals, and the estimated rate of change of indirect fire artillery calculations. (9)

According to the Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper January report, the Russian Ministry of Defense has fulfilled the plan for enriching the Russian military base stationed in Gyumri. Particularly, the number of contracted servicemen was doubled within six months. However, the number of total staff remained same. All the military bases in Armenia (especially the air forces, the anti-air defense, intelligence etc.) have already been enriched with professional staff, which essentially cuts the costs for the biannual transportation of conscript soldiers.

However, this is not considered to be the main motive behind the plans of increasing military efficiency in Armenia. Contrarily, military experts note that the rapid handover of the basis to professionals might be conditioned by the geopolitical changes that pose a threat to Russia and its allies. Ther are scenarios reportedly linked to the likelihood of a new Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Karabakh and Israeli military operations against Iran. (10) Nevertheless, these facts stressed by some officials and Russian and regional media obviously show that Russia fortifies its military base in Armenia and strives to be ready for any regional emergencies and unexpected developments.   

Concerns and Opportunities in the Area

Many international relations and military experts and politicians of Middle East and Transcaucasia ask questions on recent Russian military drills in the Caspian Sea, Russian Navy maneuvers in the Mediterranean and, in particular, on the Russian-Armenian military cooperation.

It may sound strange but same concerns are being raised in Armenia too. Raffi Hovannisian, who is the leader of political Heritage Party, a Presidential candidate on the last elections in February 2013, ex-Foreign Minister of the country, and the President of Center for National and International Studies in Yerevan, asserted that military cooperation between Moscow and Armenia may pose challenges to the Armenian sovereignty. He further argued that this close military cooperation may also raise questions about the independence of Armenian foreign policy. To put it precisely he asks; could the foreign policy of Armenia be perceived as a policy of an independent state with its so close and direct cooperation with Russia?

In an interview to Regnum Information Agency just few days before the February 2013 Presidential elections, Raffi Hovannisian stated the following about Russian and Armenian relations:

“Russia must also re-evaluate its relations with Armenia. Finest hour of Russia lies ahead. If one tries to create the Eurasian Union in order to restore the Soviet Union, then I must stand against it. But if the Eurasian Union is going to help Armenia as a country with Western values to preserve and express its Oriental tradition then I shall not oppose to participate in the process via public debates, observers etc. Society should be left to decide in a dialogue; no one has the right to direct us which way to move. The basis of our development must lean on armenocentrism [this term can be best translated as Armenia solely being the center of all things and efforts – A.K.]. Anything must be based on that principle”. (11)   


Hovannisian’s conceptualization of “Armenocentrism” is very close to a foreign concept named “complementary policy”. “Complementary policy” was a phenomenal concept that defined guidelines of Armenian foreign policy under Minister Vartan Oskanyan. Nevertheless, the interview of Hovannisian was not only a pre-election tactic but a rather serious message and critique addressed to the political elites of Russia and Armenia.

Azerbaijan closely follows the advancement of military cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan. Azerbaijan has also developed its defense ability. As far as it’s seen Azerbaijani experts do not necessarily establish connections between military build-up in Armenia and the withdrawal of Russian equipment from the Gabala radar station (GRS).  A researcher of the Strategic Studies Center under the auspices of Azerbaijan President and Zaman columnist, Zaur Shiriyev, suggested that Russia did not leave Gabala due to financial circumstances.  Contrary, Azerbaijan didn’t agree with Russian proposal that puts forward a condition that the station ought to be used jointly by all member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Last December the Moscow-led CSTO agreed to create a collective ABM on CSTO territories, which will essentially enable member countries to use Russia’s ABM-type military bases on common basis. This in theory would mean that Moscow will allow Armenia to use its GRS. All these developments, Shiriyev argued, posed real threats -- politically, military and strategically -- to Azerbaijan's security. (12) In light of this, it is interesting to note that before abandoning the GRS agreement on 5th December 2012, the Azerbaijani leadership boycotted the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit.

The author of this analysis would firmly argue that the reinforcement of Russian-Armenian military cooperation has no danger to various joint military programs of Russia with Azerbaijan as well as Turkey and Iran. Russia is interested in maintaining well-balanced relations with all states of the area. It does not wish to provoke any state to get predominant or advantageous to launch a military campaign with disastrous consequences.  Meanwhile, it is obvious to recognize that Russian policy in the area identifies Armenia as more equal than others.  Military presence of Russia makes Armenia the most important ally and provides Russia with additional opportunities to protect its interests in Transcaucasia. Russia and Armenia, taken together, are an influential factor of regional security building process. This is the main point where the political orientations of both, the Putin Decree of January 14 and the military build-up in Armenia could be discovered. This is also the point where opportunities for joint efforts between Russia and Turkey are traceable. Friendly relations of Turkey with Azerbaijan and of Russia with Armenia, the High-Level Cooperation Council between Russia and Turkey, joint action in multilateral international organizations bring the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey together. A Russian-Turkish mechanism of regional policy coordination is highly needed. Because such a mechanism could take courageous steps to solve the acute problems of the area and if built in an inclusive character could bring all the area actors – Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia – under one umbrella to contribute to the peace and stability in the region.       


1. Rasporyazhenia Presidenta Rossiyskoy Federatsii/ Ofitsial’niy internet-potral pravovoy informatsii. Gosudarstvennaya systema pravovoy informatsii// URL:   (Accessed: 23.01.2013).

2. V ramkah soglashenia o voyenno-tehnicheskom sotrudnichestve s Rossiyei v Armenii mogut byt’ razmescheny rossiiskii PVO / Arminfo// URL:   (Accessed: 23.01.2013).

3. Russian military delegation at the ARM Ministry of Defense. 2013-01-29/ Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Armenia//   (Date of Reading: 24.02.2013); Ministr oborony Rossii general armii Sergei Shoigu provel v Yerevane peregovory so svoyim armyanskim kollegoi Seyranom Ohanyanom. 29.01.2013/ Ministerstvo oborony Rossiiskoy Federatsii// URL: (Accessed: 12.02.2013).

4. Ukaz Putina podrazumevayet postavki vooruzheniy v Armeniyu – expert/ Novosti Armenii. 16.01.2013/ ИА REGNUM// URL:  (Accessed: 12.02.2013).

5. Russian military base in Armenia summarizes training year results/ URL: (Accessed: 24.02.2013)

6. Tank units hold military exercises at Russian military base in Armenia. 15.01.2013/ BSNews// URL: (Accessed: 24.02.2013)

7. Field exercises start with intelligence units of Russian military base in Armenia/ Trend// (Date of reading: 24.02.2013). See also: Razvedchiki rossiiskoy voennoy basy v Armenii otrabatyvayut pryema skorostnoy strel’by v gorah. 18.12.2012/ Ministerstvo oborony Rossiiskoy Federatsii// URL:  (Accessed: 13.02.2013).   

8. Russian military base pilots in Armenia make over 100 training flights/ trend// URL: (Date of reading: 24.02.2013). See also: Letchiki rossiiskoy voennoy basy v Armenii otrabatyvayut navyki vozdushnogo boya. 16.01.2013/ Ministerstvo oborony Rossiiskoy Federatsii// URL: (Accessed:  13.02.2013).


9. The field artillery units’ output of the Russian military base in Armenia is completed/ Public Radio of Armenia. 21.02.2013// URL: (Accessed: 24.02.2013)  

10. Russia strengthening Armenia military base – paper/ Armenian News – 18.01.13// URL: (Accessed: 24.02.2013)

11. Rossiya dolzhna pereosmyslit’ svoye otnoshenye k Armenii: intervew s kandidatom v presidenty Raffi Hovannisyanom. Intervew vzyato korrespondentom informatsionnogo agentstva Regnum I napechatano gazetoi “Yerkramas”/ Yerkramas. 9 fevralya 2013 goda// URL:  (Accessed: 12.02.2013).

12. Zaur Shiriyev. Four myths behind end of Russia's military presence in Azerbaijan/ Zaman. February 12, 2013//  URL: (Accessed 12.02.2013).

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