In the event of renewed large-scale war in the South Caucasus, Russia will send “Iskander-M” complexes to Armenia and Iran will open its airspace to reinforce Armenia. This is stated in a military report released on the influential Southfront.org analytical website.
The presence of Russian forces in Armenia is significant for the reason of the still unresolved Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. Given Armenia’s geographic importance and its political and military alignment with Russia through the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union, one also has to keep in mind that Armenia represents a tempting “color revolution” target. For that reason, Russian troops stationed there can rightly consider themselves to be part of a frontline deployment.
Under the bilateral agreement until 2044, the permanent contingent of Russian forces in Armenia centers around the 102nd Military Base near the city of Gyumri. This base was established on the basis of the 127th Motorized Rifle Division. Its equipment strength includes 72 Main Battle Tanks, nearly 200 units of military equipment and armored personnel carriers, as well as artillery systems including long-range Smerch MRLs, note the analysts.
The 102nd Military Base is based in close proximity to a NATO state (Turkey) and provides protection against air attack. That protection is provided by the 988th Air Defense Missile Regiment with S-300 and Buk-M systems, MiG-29SMT fighters based at the Erebuni airfield which recently also received 18 Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters.
4500 out of 13 thousand strong contingent of Russian troops in Armenia are the border guards of the Federal Security Service, based at Gyumri, Armavir, Artashat, and Megri.
This force serves a number of peacetime functions. It extends Russian conventional deterrence umbrella over Armenia against any external attempts to violate the sovereignty of the country. It helps integrate Armenia into the CSTO, with Russian troops serving as military trainers and advisors in a fashion similar to the role their counterparts played in Syria. Russian and Armenian forces hold frequent joint military exercises in order to improve cooperation.
If the situation in the region deteriorates, the 102nd base will wage a low intensity counter-insurgency campaign against well organized “foreign fighters” and, in the event of a major military threat to Armenia, it is sufficiently powerful to screen Armenia’s borders until reinforcements could be sent, while bombarding key enemy sites with Iskander-M missiles.
Despite the fact that Armenia does not share a border with Russia, it does have one with Iran, whose close security relationship with Russia shows no signs of weakening which means that, if the situation deteriorates, Iranian airspace could be used to reinforce Armenia.
Current Russian national security plans foresee the Russian force grouping in Armenia to be increased, as part of the overall enhancement of the role of CSTO in guaranteeing regional security and in response to increased NATO activity in the region.
What happens next is up to the West. If it will insist on continuing the course toward confrontation, Russian forces in Armenia could greatly complicate its strategic calculations.