YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Armenian and Russian armies are holding joint military exercises in Armenia reportedly involving more than 3,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery systems.
In a statement, Russia’s Southern Military District said the “joint tactical-special exercises” began at two shooting grounds on Monday and will continue until August 15. The participating troops have already simulated a joint operation against a hypothetical invader, it said, adding that they were backed up by warplanes, including MiG-29 fighter jets of the Russian military base stationed in Armenia.
The Armenian Defense Ministry did not issue statements on the exercises as of Wednesday.
Armenia and Russia have held such drills on a regular basis, highlighting their close military ties. In 2014, their militaries targeted an imaginary invading force 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 base in Armenia precludes Turkey’s direct military intervention on Azerbaijan’s side in the event of another full-scale war for Nagorno-Karabakh.
The latest wargames began three weeks after the Russian base held an exercise around a village in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province which scared many local residents. The villagers had not been notified about the drill beforehand.
Although the commanders of the Russian base apologized for the incident, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian condemned it as a “provocation against Armenia’s sovereignty.” By contrast, Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said a few days later that Armenian officials are also responsible for the scare.