MOSCOW (RFE/RL) — Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russian troops stationed in Armenia and other former Soviet republics are prepared to fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group.
“Unfortunately, the ISIS has established itself in the Middle East and north Africa and does not want to surrender yet, but we will definitely finish it off,” he told the Moscow-based MIR TV channel. “But even at this stage it is becoming active in Afghanistan, especially in its northern regions bordering our neighbors and allies.”
Lavrov said that a joint rapid-reaction force formed by Russia, Armenia and other member states of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is in a state of “permanent readiness for action” against the extremist Islamist group. “The Russian bases stationed in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are also prepared to act,” he added.
The Russian military base in Armenia has up to 4,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery systems in addition to more than a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets. Moscow has bolstered it with helicopter gunships and other military hardware in the last few years.
Armenian leaders have never publicly stated that the ISIS poses a direct security threat to Armenia. The South Caucasus country has closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan but maintains cordial relations with its third Muslim neighbor, Iran. The latter is an arch-foe of the ISIS.
Armenia contributes troops to the CSTO’s Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) mentioned by Lavrov. They regularly participate in military exercises held by the CORF. One such exercise involving 2,500 soldiers took place in Tajikstan, a Central Asian state bordering Afghanistan, two years ago