YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia demonstrated Iskander tactical missiles and other advanced weapons acquired from Russia recently as it marked the 25th anniversary of its independence with a military parade held in Yerevan on Sept. 21.
Hundreds of Armenian troops marched through the city’s central Republic Square, followed by columns of tanks mounted on heavy military tracks, armored vehicles, artillery and air-defense systems, and ballistic missiles. They were joined by a company of Russian soldiers from Russia’s military base headquartered in Gyumri.
A dozen MiG-29 fighter jets of the Russian base and Armenian Su-25 attack aircraft roared overhead during the parade watched by Armenia’s political and military leadership.
The participating troops also included soldiers of an Armenian peacekeeping brigade. They carried the national flags of the United States, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Greece symbolizing the brigade’s past and present involvement in multinational contingents led by those NATO member states.
President Serge Sarkisian praised the Armenian military as he addressed the troops lined up at the sprawling square. “We have the power to defend our freedom and our rights,” he said. “This parade bears testimony to that.”
“During the course of the past 25 years we have achieved irreversible successes,” added Sarkisian. “Sometimes we made mistakes and sometimes we went to extremes, but by and large we have followed the right path.”
The Armenian military used the occasion to put on display several Russian-made weapons that appear to have been supplied to it this year. The most important of them are Iskander missiles that have a firing range of up to 300 kilometers (approx. 187 miles) and are known for their precision. A public announcer commentating on the parade said Armenia can use them to destroy “strategic facilities” of its enemies.
In particular, the sophisticated missiles developed in the 1990’s and first acquired by Russia’s armed forces in 2006 should make Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas installations more vulnerable to Armenian missile strikes.
Yerevan has made no secret of its readiness to launch such strikes in the event of a full-scale war for Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh/NKR). Its ballistic missile arsenal until now included only Soviet-era Scud-B and Tochka-U systems, which were also demonstrated during the parade.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan has said in the past that its oil and gas infrastructure and key military facilities are protected against these missiles. The Azerbaijani armed forces are equipped with Russian S-300 air-defense systems which may be able to intercept Scud-Bs. In recent years, Baku has also reportedly purchased from Israel similar surface-to-air missiles as well as a missile defense radar.
Iskander is thought to be capable of overcoming just about every missile defense shield currently existing in the world. Armenia is the first country other than Russia which is known to have obtained such missiles.
Citing two senior Russian defense industry executives, the Russian daily “Vedomosti” reported at the weekend that Moscow supplied Armenia with at least four Iskander launchers that simultaneously can fire two missiles each. The unnamed sources also said that the delivery was not covered by a $200 million (USD) Russian loan which Armenia is to spend on the purchase of more Russian weapons.
In February, the Russian government disclosed the types of military hardware which Yerevan can buy with the loan disbursed in 2015. They include Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems with a range of up to 90 kilometers (approx. 60 miles).
The Sept. 21 parade featured Smerch rockets as well, suggesting that Armenian army got hold of them earlier this year.
Yerevan pressed Moscow to speed up the implementation of the $200 million arms deal following last April’s outbreak of heavy fighting around Artsakh which nearly escalated into an all-out Armenian-Azerbaijani war. It also used the escalation to renew its criticism of at least $4 billion worth of offensive weapons which the Russians have sold to Azerbaijan since 2010.
Among other newly acquired weaponry demonstrated at the Armenian parade were modernized variants of the Buk medium-range air-defense system and Infauna electronic warfare vehicles that use advanced technology to jam enemy communications.
Armenia also plans to buy soon Russian-made TOS-1A heavy flamethrowers using thermobaric rockets and Kornet anti-tank systems.