By Marina Romanova
President Vladimir Putin has approved a proposal to create a joint Russian and Armenian military group, two countries media reports, quoting the decree. The military cooperation project was proposed by the Russian Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and other federal agencies involved.
According to the document, dated 12 November and published on Monday, November 14th, Putin has ordered the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to hold talks with Armenia on reaching an agreement on a subject matter.
The document draft states that a joint command will be created, whose leader will be appointed by the Supreme Commander of the Armenian Armed Forces in agreement with the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces.
During peacetime, the commander of the joint forces will be subordinate to Armenia’s military Chief of Staff. During wartime, he will be subordinate to the commander of Russia’s southern military district or the Armenian Chief of Staff, depending on the situation and the decision of both militaries’ chief commanders.
The tasks of these joint forces include ensuring the security of Russian and Armenians borders and to work within the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), a regional military alliance of post-Soviet states namely Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Armenia.
The document also states that the parties will independently carry out logistical and financial support for their troops.
In October 2016, Putin has also submitted a Russian-Armenian agreement on creating the Caucasus Unified Air Defense System to the State Duma. The initial agreement on the Unified Air Defense System was signed in December 2015. Armenia’s parliament ratified the agreement at the end of June 2016.
Russia and Armenia have strengthened relations after Yerevan joined a Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union in 2013.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is one of the so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space. Following the breakup of the USSR in 1991, a number of conflicts arose in areas of some of the post-Soviet states, usually where the new international borders did not match the ethnic affiliations of local populations.
An armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place between 1988 and 1994 over Nagorno-Karabakh, mainly Armenian population region of Azerbaijan. The conflict killed 30,000 people and displaced more than a million. No peace accord was signed despite talks involving Russia, the U.S. and France halting major hostilities in 1994. Legally speaking, Nagorno-Karabakh is a territory of Azerbaijan, occupied by Armenia.
The enclave declared independence in 1991, which hasn’t been recognized internationally, and insists on its right to self-determination.
In August 2008, the US, France and Russia began to negotiate a full settlement of the conflict, proposing a referendum on the status of the territory. The effort culminated in the signature in Moscow by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev of an agreement to hold talks on a political settlement.
Earlier this year a four-day war was fought between 2 and 5 April 2016, leaving over two dozen soldiers’ dead on both sides. A ceasefire was agreed on 5 April at a behind-the-scenes meeting in Moscow between representatives of the warring sides. However, at least three soldiers were confirmed killed in October 2016, international media reports.
“The approval by Russian President Vladimir Putin of the agreement on creating a combined Russian-Armenian army group is a very dangerous tendency that is going to pose a threat to the South Caucasus,” Gabil Huseynli, political analyst from Azerbaijan, told local news agency APA today.
Elkhan Sahinoglu, director of the Atlas Research Center, said to the local media that the Azerbaijani government doesn’t want to have problems in relations with Russia:
“It doesn’t mean that we should turn blind eyes to Russia’s increasing military support to Armenia. Of course, the signing by President Putin on creating a combined Russian-Armenian army group triggers concern. This casts a shadow on the impartiality of Russia as the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russian military support to Armenia must make us to review balanced foreign policy. The misbalance can be eliminated through highest military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he added.
Armenia recently has acquired Russian-made Iskander ballistic missiles, while Azerbaijan says it’s tested combat drones produced with Israel and is in talks with Pakistan to buy high-tech weapons.
As Bloomberg reports, two neighbors spent almost US$27 billion on defense in 2005-2015.
In February 2016, Erevan got a US$200 million loan from Russia “to buy and modernize weapons and other military equipment.”
At the same time, Russia has stressed that is also sells military hardware, missiles in particular, to Azerbaijan through the CSTO, Russian daily Vedomosti reports.
Russia –Armenia economic cooperation
Armenia, a country of 3.2 million people, depends heavily on aid and investment from former Soviet “big brother” Russia, whose economic downturn has hit Armenian exports and much-needed remittances from Armenians working there.
Russia is Armenia’s largest trading partner, and accounted for 26.4 percent of Armenia’s foreign trade for the first half of this year. European Union remains Armenia’s largest export market and accounted to 25.3 percent share in country’s foreign trade, according to Armenian national statistical service.
Armenia’s annual economic growth rate was 1.5 percent in the second quarter of 2016, down from 5.1 percent in the same period last year and 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016, Reuters reports.
However, Russian-Armenian trade for the 1H of 2016 fell by 5.8 percent; EU exports to Armenia dramatically collapsed by more than 30 percent compare to 1H of 2015, reflecting decreased consumer spending in the country, which was in turn caused, in large measure, by falling remittances from Armenians working in recession-hit Russia.