"CSTO technically cannot create a unified air defense system": Opinion from Yerevan

Dec 19 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

CSTO Unified Air Defense System

On December 19 a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CSTO military bloc under the leadership of Russia will be held where the issue of creating a unified air defense system will be discussed. However, Armenia stated that it will not participate in the session. Recently, the country’s authorities have refused to participate in all events organized within the framework of pro-Russian integration structures.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to another boycott by saying that Armenia’s absnece at the CSTO assembly will not affect the decision on the creation of the organization’s air defense system. The Armenian Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on whether Armenia is going to join the system if the decision on its creation is made.

Meanwhile, political scientist David Harutyunov told JAMnews that it is technically impossible to create a unified air defense system within the CSTO. According to him, this means cooperation in the format of “CSTO member country-Russia”.

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The speaker of the Armenian parliament was supposed to take part in the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly session. However, in late November, Alen Simonyan announced that he would not participate in the event.

“I have informed my CSTO colleagues that I will not participate in the event. There is no response from them yet and, I think, there will be none. I’m sure they understand the reasons for non-attendance.”

At the same time, the Speaker of the National Assembly emphasized that lack of parrticipation does not mean “freezing of relations” and that Armenia has no intention to withdraw from the CSTO.

“Simply participation in this event is not expedient in the current situation. And the situation is such that the CSTO does not fulfill its obligations [towards Armenia] and did not fulfill its obligations earlier,” Simonyan said, commenting on the issue at the request of journalists.

The Russian side said that the absence of the Armenian delegation would not affect decision-making on the creation of a unified air defense system.

“Their physical non-appearance for participation does not significantly slow down the processes of harmonization by other member states of the adoption of collective here documents, to which in many cases they join,” Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Pankin told reporters.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also touched upon the creation of a joint air defense system. He noted that it is actually already in operation, as there are relevant bilateral agreements with each state. And in the case of the CSTO, all that remains is to document the existence of the system.

The agreement on the creation of a unified air defense system between Armenia and Russia was signed on December 23, 2015, three months before the April 2016 four-day war. The situation at that time was tense both on the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh and on Armenia’s border, in the Tavush region. After the end of hostilities at the end of June, the agreement was submitted for parliamentary approval.

Armenian media are now reminding their audiences of these events, including quoting and clarification from the Defense Ministry from 2016 on what capabilities this agreement will provide Armenia:

“The agreement provides an opportunity to use the capabilities of the Air and Space Forces of the Russian Armed Forces, up to the use of nuclear weapons. The Air and Space Forces of the Russian Armed Forces have a satellite system that can be used on the territory of Armenia in the interests of the Armenian Air Defense Forces. The Russian side also has surveillance systems that can be used in the interests of Armenia.”

However, there is no information about the practical application of the points of this agreement signed seven years ago, despite the fact that after 2016, the Armenian authorities have twice appealed to Russia and other allies in the CSTO bloc to help protect the country’s sovereign territory — the advance of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces deep into the territory of Armenia in May 2021 and September 2022.

Political scientist David Arutyunov says that it is not clear what kind of unified air defense system we can talk about. He believes that it is impossible to create it within the CSTO:

“The countries that are members of the bloc are located in different geographical zones – in Europe, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus. First of all, it is impossible to combine all this. And secondly, it simply does not need to be done. Each of these countries is only interested in protecting its own borders.”

He explains that cooperation in the field of air defense is achieved on a bilateral basis, i.e. between a CSTO member country and Russia. According to him, Armenia’s cooperation with Russia in this sphere began even before the signing of the agreement. In particular, one of the main functions of the Russian military base stationed in Armenia was to create air defense:

“A significant part of Armenia’s air defense, along the entire border with Turkey is provided by the Russian side. And this is one of the reasons why Armenia still exists.”

Arutyunov recalls that many Armenian-Russian agreements were signed in the 90s, when in parallel with the war in Karabakh there was a threat of an attack on Armenia by Turkey. At the same time he emphasizes that there were no documents and it was not assumed that the RF would defend the territory of MK:

“As for the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, the lack of reaction and non-interference was a political decision of the Russian Federation, as Russians do not want to enter into a conflict with Azerbaijan.”

The political scientist considers this problematic, but notes that since 2010 Armenia’s role in Russia’s foreign policy priorities has declined, mainly because of its “presence in Crimea and military base in Syria, as well as the development of Russian-Turkish relations”.

As for the CSTO, according to Arutyunov, the bloc “was not a very effective structure from the beginning.” For Armenia, membership in the organization was just an opportunity to buy cheap weapons. In addition, the CSTO reinforced the guarantees that Armenia already had within the framework of agreements with Russia.

“Perhaps there was some sentiment in Armenia that the bloc would immediately respond and rush to save Armenia. But I don’t know where they came from. There are very few real cases when this structure did anything,” he said.

It is not clear to the political analyst what Armenia will get as a result of leaving the CSTO as there are no alternative guarantees offered by the West:

“A certain diversification in the security sphere is simply inevitable. We see that Russia is not ready to provide at least part of the guarantees that it was initially supposed to provide.”

According to Arutyunov, Armenia has “maneuvering resources” in order not to break ties with Russia and, at the same time, to develop them with the West.