Armenia agreed to extend Russia's lease of a military base in the city of Gyumri until 2044. In an e-mail interview,Kim Iskyan, a director in the Russia and Eurasia practice at Eurasia Group, discusses Russia-Armenia defense relations.
WPR: What has historically been Russia and Armenia's defense relationship?
Kim Iskyan: Russia and Armenia have long shared a close relationship, with defense as a critical dimension. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were Soviet bases in all three countries of the Caucasus, but Azerbaijan and Georgia subsequently engineered the departure of the Russian military presence. Armenia, though, wanted to keep Russian boots on Armenian territory. Russia currently maintains a base with several thousand troops in the city of Gyumri. Russian and Armenian forces are jointly responsible for the defense of Armenia's borders.
In the bigger picture, the Russian presence has been a critical source of support for Armenia against the possible threat of any heightened tension with Turkey and, in particular, with Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue remains a source of continued contention, and Armenia does not have relations with Turkey nor Azerbaijan. So Armenia has long been in a tenuous position -- geopolitically, economically and militarily -- and has looked to Russia for support.