YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Russia has deployed in Armenia state-of-the-art ballistic missiles capable of striking targets more than 400 kilometers away, according to a source in the Armenian Defense Ministry.
Speaking on the condition anonymity, the source told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) over the weekend that several Iskander-M systems are currently stationed at undisclosed locations in the country. The source declined to clarify whether they were delivered to the Armenian armed forces or the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan did not officially and explicitly refute the information. Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovannisian was quoted by 168.am Monday as saying only that the Armenian army has no Iskander-Ms in its arsenal.
Citing an unnamed Russian military source, the Russian news agency Regnum reported on May 15 that Moscow is likely to deploy the advanced surface-to-surface missiles as part of the ongoing modernization of its base in Armenia.
Designated by NATO as SS-26 Stone, Iskander-M is regarded by military analysts as one of the most advanced missile systems of its kind in the world. The system known for its precision was developed in the 1990s and adopted by the Russian army in 2006. With an operational range of at least 400 kilometers, its 7.3-meter-long missiles can overcome existing missile-defense systems, according to Russian military officials and experts.
Russian-Armenian military ties appear to have deepened further in the last few months, with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and chief of the General Staff, Colonel-General Valery Gerasimov, visiting Armenia early this year. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian held follow-up talks with Shoygu a mid-April trip to Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian also discussed defense cooperation when they met near Moscow on March 12. Sarkisian reportedly thanked Putin for “good progress” in bilateral military ties made since their previous meeting in December.
A Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.” Russian assistance is vital for the implementation of a five-year plan to modernize the Armenian army that was adopted by the Sarkisian administration later in 2010. The plan puts the emphasis on the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons.
The Armenian military has been equipped until now with only Scud-B and Tochka-U ballistic missiles that have firing ranges of 300 kilometers and 120 kilometers respectively. The Soviet-era systems are less advanced than Iskander-M. The military makes no secret of its readiness to use them against Azerbaijan’s oil and gas installations in case of a renewed war for Nagorno-Karabakh.