YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia moved closer on Wednesday to setting up a new joint air defense system with Armenia, with President Vladimir Putin formally authorizing his government to negotiate a corresponding Russian-Armenian agreement.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet confirmed late last month plans for the creation of the Russian-Armenian “united regional system of air defense in the Caucasus region of collective security.” In a statement cited by Russian news agencies, the Kremlin said that Putin approved those plans and instructed the Russian defense and foreign ministries to hold negotiations with the Armenian side.
The deputy commander of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant-General Pavel Kurachenko, said in September that the Armenian and Russian governments are preparing to sign the agreement. “We have already gone far,” he said, expressing hope that the two sides will work out all remaining details by the end of this year.
The Russian and Armenian militaries have been jointly protecting Armenia’s airspace ever since the mid-1990s. Their integrated air defense system was given a “regional” status by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 2007.
Top Russian military officials said at the time that Moscow has upgraded Armenia’s anti-aircraft capacity and trained Armenian specialists to operate sophisticated S-300 systems. Some Armenian defense analysts suggested that Moscow is keen to extend the geographic span of the joint air defenses to the entire South Caucasus. Those consist of not only Armenian and Russian anti-aircraft weapons but also 18 or so MiG-29 fighter jets that are part of the Russian military base in Armenia.
It is not yet clear how the new “regional system” will differ from the existing one and whether it will operate within the framework of the CSTO.
Russia has already created such systems with Belarus and Kazakhstan and is reportedly planning to sign similar deals with the two other CSTO member states: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.