Russia Vows To Boost Armenian Air Defense
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)--Russia is satisfied with Armenia's air defense capabilities but will continue to help strengthen and modernize them, the visiting chief of the Russian Air Force said on Thursday.
"On the one hand, Armenia's national system of air defense makes us happy," said General Vladimir Mikhaylov. "On the other, we will keep helping you, including with means and forces existing at the Russian military base No. 102 which is stationed here."
Mikhaylov did not elaborate on the promised assistance as he spoke to reporters in Yerevan after chairing a regular meeting of body coordinating the air defenses of the six ex-Soviet states aligned in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who also attended the meeting, said Armenia welcomes Russian efforts to step up air-defense coordination and other forms of military cooperation within the CSTO framework. He argued that the Armenian army and the Russian military base have been jointly defending Armenia's airspace since April 1999.
The joint anti-aircraft protection was given the status of the CSTO's "integrated regional system of air defense" during the Yerevan meeting of senior military officials from Armenia, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. What that means in practical terms remained unclear, though.
"We are switching to a new system. It's better and more effective," Mikhaylov's deputy, Lieutenant General Aytech Bizhev, told RFE/RL. Bizhev declined to elaborate on his recent statement that Russia upgraded Armenia's air defense last year and trained Armenian specialists to operate its sophisticated S-300 missile systems as part of the assistance. He also would not say if that means Yerevan will be supplied with such systems, referring all inquiries to Armenian officials.
Major-General Ararat Ambarian, chief of the air defense department at the Armenian Defense Ministry, was equally reticent about the subject, saying only that the training process began in 2005. "Exploiting [those systems] is quite difficult," he said. "You must try hard to learn doing that."