YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of Russian and Armenian soldiers backed up by artillery, tanks and warplanes have simulated a joint counteroffensive against an imaginary invader during annual military exercises held in central Armenia.

The exercises took place at the vast Alagyaz shooting range near the northern slopes of Mount Aragats late last week, involving troops that are part of a joint Russian-Armenian military force formed more than a decade ago. The special unit comprises servicemen of the Armenian army and the Russian military base in Armenia.

The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said the participating troops practiced a joint operation against commando units of an “imaginary adversary that crossed the state border.” It said they “destroyed” the enemy with the help of tanks, artillery systems, combat helicopters as well as Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.

The Russian-Armenian force led by an Armenian general, Mikael Grigorian, held its previous war games at the same location just over a year ago. They targeted an imaginary invader codenamed “Ottomania,” a clear reference to neighboring Turkey.

Armenian leaders have repeatedly said that Armenia hosts Russian troops on its territory primarily because of a perceived security threat from Turkey, rather than Azerbaijan. From Yerevan’s perspective, the Russian military presence precludes Turkey’s direct military intervention on Azerbaijan’s side in the event of another full-scale war for Nagorno-Karabakh.

A Russian-Armenian agreement signed in 2010 extended that presence until 2044 and upgraded the security mandate of the Russian base. Moscow has since beefed up the base numbering between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers with more modern military hardware.

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