Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 198

On October 22, four MIG-29 all-weather fighter-interceptor jets of Russia’s Air Force arrived at the Yerebuni airport near Yerevan, for permanent deployment with Russian forces in Armenia. This increment means that the Russian forces in that country now have eighteen MIG-29 planes, according to Armenian air force officers, or twenty, according to independent sources. Russia’s Air Force commander in chief, Colonel-General Anatoly Kornukov, present at the welcoming ceremony, declared that the deployment of this batch concludes the program to modernize the Russian fighter-interceptor force based in Armenia. That force is supposed to decommission its outdated MIG-19 and MIG-21 planes. The modernization program’s twin facet consists of replacing outdated Krug surface-to-air missiles with S-300 missiles–an effort in progress.

The Russian planes will, from now on, use locally purchased fuel, because Georgia no longer permits the transit of Russian supply columns to Armenia across Georgian territory. As part of its effort to get rid of Russian troops, Georgia seeks to limit and, hopefully, nullify its value to Russia as a corridor for military transit to Armenia. Tbilisi did, however, authorize the overflight of these Russian jets upon Moscow’s request and assurances that the jets did not carry live ammunition. This marked a departure from previous practice, whereby Russian jets en route to Armenia had felt free to overfly Georgia without authorization or even prenotification.

Both the Russian and the Armenian side insist as in the past that the planes and the air defense missiles are strictly for Russian use, not subject to any dual-key arrangement. The distinction has been less than clear-cut, however, in view of the fact that Russian and Armenian forces tend to pool the military hardware during their joint exercises. The two air defense forces, in particular, operate jointly. Moreover, Kornukov announced on October 22 the delivery of 2,000 tons of spare parts and other gear “from both Russian and Armenian military stockpiles” to the Russian air defense force in Armenia; that move, too, would seem somewhat to dilute the “strictly Russian” status of these weapons systems (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Azg, October 22-24).

The program to modernize Russia’s air defense force in Armenia has been underway since December 1998. In April 1999, Russia and Armenia commissioned the command post of their joint air defense system on the Russian base at Chobankara, southwest of Yerevan. That move inaugurated the joint operation of the Russian and Armenian air defense systems. Russian military and civilian officials portray the “joint” system as authorized by CIS decisions and as a component of the CIS “Collective Security System” (CSS). Such depiction is misleading not only because a CSS has never come into existence, but also because the Russian-Armenian air defense system is a purely bilateral affair and a corollary of the two countries’ 1997 alliance treaty (see the Monitor, February 22, April 16, October 6; Fortnight in Review, April 23).

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