Armenia builds up its military might

Agency WPS
August 27, 2004, Friday


SOURCE: Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kurier, No 32, August 25 – 31, 2004, p.

by Samvel Martirosjan (Yerevan)


The Russian-Armenian military cooperation develops quite dynamically.
Not long ago, Russia lent a sympathetic ear to Armenia’s request
concerning training of up to 150 officers. Complicated situation in
the Caucasus forces the authorities of Armenia to pay unfeigned
attention to national defense. According to official data alone, the
2004 Armenian state budget allocated almost $82 million for military
needs, an almost 10% rise against war spendings in 2003. Estimates of
the International Institute of Strategic Studies (London) show that
in 2002 Armenia was the CIS leader in the arms spendings to GDP ratio
– 6.4%, an equivalent of $162 million.

The CIA claims that as far as this particular parameter is concerned,
Armenia is the 11th in the world; it spent $135 million on its army
in 2001. When the closed parliamentary hearing of fulfillment of the
2003 budget was over not long ago, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh
Sarkisjan said that arms spendings would be increased next year
again. Sarkisjan refused to elaborate but said that the Armenian
national army was initiating a program of rearmament.

It should be noted that the population of Armenia, not exactly a
wealthy country, does not object to these measures taken by national
leaders. The population is perfectly aware of the undeclared war with
Azerbaijan that is under way. Serious clashes are regularly reported
in the areas where Armenian and Azerbaijani troops face each other;
shots have been fired by sharpshooters for a decade (ever since the
cease-fire on the Karabakh front was signed). Moreover, official
Yerevan positions itself as a guarantor of security of Karabakh.

Turkey is another potential enemy. Diplomatic relations with Turkey
have never been established. Ankara is still blocking the border with
Armenia and pursuing an openly anti-Armenian policy. Sociologists of
the Armenian Center of National and Strategic Studies discovered that
47.5% respondents in Armenia believe that the war with Azerbaijan may
be resumed within five years, and 7% more expect a Turkish aggression
within the same span of time.


Armenian national army is considered one of the most combat ready in
the Caucasus. These days, it is over 60,000 men strong. According to
the CIA, there are 810,000 men in Armenia aged 15 to 59 and almost
650,000 of them are fit for combat. Most experts say, however, that
mobilization resources of Armenia amount to 300,000 men, i.e. almost
10% of the total population (over 3.2 million).

Under the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe, in 2001 Armenia
declared 102 T-72 tanks and 204 armored vehicles (most of them
infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers). With the
military hardware the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe does not
apply to, Armenia has up to 700 armored vehicles. Its artillery
comprises 225 pieces of 122 mm and larger calibers including 50
multiple rocket launchers.

The Armenian Air Force includes five SU-25 ground-attack aircraft,
one MIG-25, 35 helicopters (the latter include twelve MI-24 attack
helicopters), and 3,000 servicemen. Yerevan intends to build up this
component of its Armed Forces. Not long ago, Defense Ministry of
Slovenia proclaimed the sale of ten SU-25s to Armenia (nine SU-25K
one-seaters and one SU-25UBK two-seater). The consignment will cost
Armenia $1 million. Armenia bought two IL-76 military transports from
Russia not long ago. The transports were bought at Russian domestic
prices and made it to Armenia together with Defense Minister of
Russia Sergei Ivanov.

Armenia builds up its Air Force in the hope of making it a match for
the Azerbaijani, but its antiaircraft defense is considered the best
throughout the Caucasus. Armenian antiaircraft defense comprises an
antiaircraft missile brigade and two regiments armed with almost 100
antiaircraft complexes of various models and modifications (Osa,
Krug, S-75, and S-125). Numerical strength is estimated at about
2,000 servicemen. Armenian antiaircraft defense developed in a hurry
in the war over Karabakh when Azerbaijani Air Force regularly and
energetically bombarded Armenian trenches and settlements both in
Karabakh and in Armenia’s own border districts. There was nothing
Armenia could do about it then. By 1993, however, it already had a
formidable antiaircraft defense in Armenia itself and in the Republic
of Nagorno-Karabakh. Its deployment cut Azerbaijani advantage in the
sky to the minimum.

These days, the Armenian skies are controlled by Armenian and Russian
antiaircraft defense units on joint combat duty since 1999. There are
at least 30 MIG-29 fighters and a regiment of S-300s quartered on the
territory of Armenia.

Allies in the Organization of the CIS Collective Security Treaty

Armenia is a member of the Organization of the CIS Collective
Security Treaty. As such, it participates in all events organized
within its framework. In any case, Russia is Armenia’s oldest and
traditional ally. Ever since the regaining of sovereignty, the tandem
of Moscow and Yerevan has served as one of the few examples of bona
fide military-political cooperation in the Commonwealth. There is
practically no discord between Russia and Armenia in this sphere.

Russia and Armenia together defend the Armenian airspace or, rather,
the southern border of the Commonwealth. Armenian borders with Turkey
and Iran are manned by almost 2,000 Russian bodyguards who serve
shoulder to shoulder with their Armenian counterparts. Yet, it is the
102nd Military Base in Gyumri that is Russia’s major outpost in
Armenia. Unlike Tbilisi or Baku, official Yerevan never brings up the
subject of withdrawal of the Russian troops. When Sarkisjan is asked
the question, he never answers believing it a rhetoric question.
Armenian society regards the Russian troops as a covering force
defending it from the Turkish aggression.

Until recently, the 102nd Military Base had 74 tanks, 17 battle
infantry vehicles, 148 armored personnel carriers, 84 artillery
pieces, up to 30 MIG-23s and MIG-29s, and a regiment of S-300
antiaircraft complexes. In the last eighteen months, however, a great
deal of military hardware was moved there from Georgia. Armenia gave
the land and objects used by the 102nd Military Base over to Russia
and covers some communal services.

Officer training is another sphere of Russian-Armenian military
cooperation. In the first years of sovereignty when Armenia did not
have military educational establishments of its own, officers of its
army were trained in Russia. Even now when Armenia has a military
college on its own territory, the Armenian officer corps honors the
tradition and is trained at Russian military educational
establishments. On a visit to Armenia in late May, Ivanov said that
600 Armenian servicemen are being trained in Russia. “Armenia asks
for the permission to send 150 servicemen to Russia in 2005, and
Russia gave its consent,” Ivanov said.

It seems that Moscow and Yerevan do not plan to stop. The first
meeting of the joint Russian-Armenian government panel for
military-technical cooperation will take place this autumn. According
to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Russian factories will participate
in the Armenian program of military hardware modernization. He even
said that Russia is prepared to supply the necessary spare parts an

Belarus is another ally of Armenia in the Organization of the CIS
Collective Security Treaty. The two countries signed a treaty in
2002. Under the document, Armenia will receive light weapons, armored
vehicles, ordnance, and optical devices in return for spare parts and
gadgets for military hardware. Armenia also intends to have its heavy
military hardware upgraded at Belarusian factories. Lieutenant
General Sergei Gurulev, Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian
Armed Forces, says that the Armenian-Belarusian military contacts
“become systematic and deliberate.”

Do not forget NATO

Greece is Armenia’s best ally in the Alliance. Greece and Armenia
share ancient ties and a common enemy – Turkey. Armenian officers are
trained in Greece. Every now and then Athens puts into motion
military aid programs. In 2003, the two countries signed another
military cooperation accord under which Greece will up the number of
Armenian servicemen trained at the military and military-medical
academies in Athens.

Armenia became a peacekeeper in February. It sent 34 servicemen to
Kosovo where they became an element of the Greek contingent. Armenian
servicemen in Kosovo are paid by the Greeks.

Yerevan has been shifting towards NATO lately, mostly within the
framework of the NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program. Cooperative
Best Effort exercise (the first one where Russia was represented) was
run on the territory of Armenia in 2003.

Armenian cooperation with NATO is mostly declarative for the time
being, but the United States – the country steadily upping its clout
with countries of the region – has far-reaching plans with regard to
Yerevan. In early 2003, the Pentagon announced several major military
programs in the Caucasus. Washington’s military aid to Armenia in
2004 will amount to $5 million even though the US Administration
intended to restrict it to $2 million at first. Armenia and the
United States signed a military-technical cooperation accord in
April. Some articles in the American media imply that the accord
specifies the use of Armenian airfields by the US AF.

Proclaiming complementariness as its foreign political doctrine,
official Yerevan never misses a chance to advance its contacts with
Washington. When the war in Iraq was under way, Armenia remained
neutral. It neither supported the war and America’s action nor
condemned them. These days, however, the parliament and government of
Armenia are working on the legislation that will enable Yerevan to
send servicemen to Iraq. The Cabinet already endorsed the decision of
the Defense Ministry to subscribe to the memorandum “On the command
and settlement of issues in connection with activities of the
international division in the forces of coalition in Iraq”. At first,
Armenia will probably send 10 de-miners and 3 doctors and some trucks
to Iraq.

Moreover, Armenia even permitted the United States to modernize its
communications, one of the most vulnerable items. Yerevan expects to
get communications means from American companies. The deliveries will
be paid for by the White House (the sum amounts to $7 million).
Commenting on it, Sarkisjan said that Russia is quite understanding.
“We are allies. It means that the strengthening of one partner will
benefit the other,” said Sarkisjan. “We initiated the process a year
ago, and I found our Russian colleagues quite understanding.” He said
that from military cooperation with the United States Armenia
expected to up combat potential of its own army.

So, Armenia ups its military might against the background of the
deepening crisis in the relations with Azerbaijan, the crisis that
threatens to deteriorate into another full-scale war. It should be
noted as well that in any conflict the Armenian national army may
count on servicemen from Karabakh. In fact, the Karabakh army even
leaves the Armenian behind in some parameters. Karabakh armed
formations cannot match the Armenian army in manpower (about 20,000
servicemen and mobilization resources at 60,000 men), but they are
certainly ahead of Armenia in heavy military hardware: 316 tanks, 324
armored vehicles, 322 artillery pieces of calibers over 122 mm, 44
multiple rocket launchers, and the antiaircraft defense system that
performed flawlessly in the hostilities in the 1990’s.

Translated by A. Ignatkin