RUSSIA: Armenian Mil. does not think much of the Americans

Agency WPS
March 26, 2004, Friday


SOURCE: Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, No 10, March 19 – 25, 2004, p.8
Translated from Russian
by Igor Plugatarev

Several hundred meters divide checkpoints of two military units in
Yerevan outskirts.Closer to the city is the Russian regiment, and the
other one is a communication regiment of the Armenian Armed Forces.
According to the military, both units are elements of the Russian
102nd military base in Armenia. It means that they comprise a single
military structure. And yet, differences are undeniable. Entrance to
the Russian checkpoint is barred by slabs of concrete making entry
more difficult. The Armenian unit does not have this fortification
against terrorists. The Armenians are surprised as well, that Russian
soldiers manning checkpoints always wear heavy bulletproof vests. “Why
bother?” the locals shrug.

Armenia does care for the military. Lieutenant Colonel Vartan
Stepanjan, 43, communication regiment commander (he became an officer
by chance, it happened during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh) claims that
officers of the Armenian army have no reasons to complain. “Status of
our officers is higher than that of an average citizen,” he explained.
“Average salary in Armenia amounts to 15,000 drams while officers are
paid three or four times that. Sometimes, they are even paid six or
seven times that, depending on the position.” The sum is an equivalent
of between $150 and $250, while average teachers for example are paid
$30-50. “Moreover, salaries in the army are always paid on time,”
Stepanjan added.

The two cantonments are divided by a concrete wall topped with barbed
wire. There is a metal door painted green with an inspection hole in
the wall.

“What about the division of functions from the point of view of combat
tasks?” this correspondent inquired. “There is no definite division,”
Stepanjan replied. “Russian servicemen and we accomplish whatever
missions are given us.” “Any problems with the language?” – “No. All
negotiations are restricted to the upper level of command. Everybody
speaks good Russian there. At the same time, almost all our soldiers
speak Russia too because it is taught at schools.” Almost all soldiers
in the regiment are Armenians.

According to Stepanjan, the regiment is a unit of permanent combat
readiness. It provides communications for Supreme Commander-in-Chief
Robert Kocharjan, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisjan, and chief of the
General Staff. Military hardware here is of Soviet vintage or Russian
(that is so throughout the Armenian army). The regiment is between 15%
and 20% men under complement which enables it to deal with the tasks
dished out by the command. The regiment was in charge of
communications of the united command post of the Russian army group in
Armenia in the past. These days, this is the task of the Russian
communication battalion withdrawn from Georgia to Gyumri (former

The Armenian national army is a carbon copy of the Soviet Army. All
four battle codes are verbatim copies of codes of the Soviet Army.

Everything in old brick barracks is the way it as in the Soviet Army

All soldiers come from the provinces. Under the national legislation,
a conscript cannot be assigned to an unit closer than 50 kilometers
from his home. Soldiers are drafted for two years. They are paid 1,560
drams (approximately $3 or 100 Russian rubles). According to
commanders, their subordinates do not have anything to complain about.
They do not look hungry or frightened indeed.

Neither do soldiers of the Armenian national army complain of cruelty
in the barracks. “I cannot say that we do not have it in the army at
all,” Stepanjan said. “I served in a lot of places and units and I can
tell you that we do not have cruelty in the barracks by 98%. There is
no such thing in my regiment here.” The officer ascribes it to
“commanders’ efforts, our mentality, attitude of the people toward the
army, and our traditions.” There are other problems – AWOLs and drinki
ng – but Stepanjan is philosophical about that. “Soldiers will remain
soldiers,” he said.

In 2003, Stepanjan’s regiment participated in the exercise of eleven
CIS and eight NATO countries. Said Stepanjan, “Watching our guys
handle the military hardware, the Americans wanted to know how they
were and how long they had already served. We informed them that some
servicemen had spent six months in service, others twelve months. The
Americans were impressed by our professionalism.”

The Armenian military does not think too much of the Americans. “They
are poor shooters. Their vaunted assault rifles misfired all too
frequently at shooting ranges. Not so our guys who hit all targets
with their AKMs and K-3s” (an Armenian automatic rifle resembling the
Israeli Uzi – Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie).

As a matter of fact, the Armenians are convinced that NATO servicemen
participating in that exercise were “mostly CIA and army intelligence.
They came to find out the state of affairs here, to gauge our fighting
spirit, and see what military hardware we operated.”