The Commander of Russia’s Air Force, Colonel-General Anatoly Kornukov, paid a three-day visit to Armenia to inaugurate the joint operation of a Russian-Armenian air defense system. At the Erebuni airbase outside Yerevan, Kornukov oversaw the first combat drills of MIG-29 interceptor planes, the first batch of which arrived there from Russia last December. The Russian and Armenian planes are due to start regular patrolling of Armenia’s air space in March.
Kornukov announced that “components” of the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles are now being air-delivered for assembly and deployment at the Giumri airbase in northwestern Armenia. This is the first public acknowledgment by either side that delivery of the Russian missiles to Armenia has begun. Kornukov attempted to portray the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, and the current American and British air sorties against Iraq, as a potential threat to Armenia. He described the Russian S-300 missiles as intended to ward off “any erroneous or seemingly erroneous flights into Armenia” by Western aircraft. “CIS countries need to join forces against such uninvited guests.”
Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian stated that the weaponry is purely defensive. He refuted what he described as Azerbaijan’s “anti-Russian propaganda” which “depicts Armenia as anti-West and anti-NATO” (Snark, Respublika Armeniya, AP, Itar-Tass, February 19).
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