Moscow (AFP) –
The Russian military ordered Tuesday a snap combat readiness check of its troops stationed in Armenia as the Caucasus country grapples with anti-government protests.
“During the snap inspection, a commission will assess the readiness of duty troops in the air force unit stationed in Erebuni and at the military base in Gyumri to perform assigned tasks,” Russia’s southern military district said in a statement.
The military drills will take place in the mountainous areas of Kamkhud and Alagyaz, and will be monitored by drones, the statement said.
Russia has recently intensified its surprise combat readiness checks, testing its troops’ capabilities from the Arctic to the Far East as relations with the West have soured over the Ukrainian crisis.
The most recent snap check comes amid more than two weeks of protests in Armenia, sparked last month over plans by a Russian-owned company to increase electricity prices by more than 16 percent.
Hundreds of riot police last month clashed with protesters in the largest anti-government demonstrations the ex-Soviet country has seen in years.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has denied that the demonstrations, which have dwindled over the past week, are anti-Russian.
Some politicians in Moscow have expressed fears that the demonstrations could come to resemble those that toppled a Kremlin-backed government in Ukraine last year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the West against attempts to foment revolution in Armenia, one of Moscow’s staunchest allies.
Bilateral ties received a huge blow in January after a Russian soldier stationed in the Armenian city of Gyumri murdered a local family of seven, including a six-month-old.
Russia’s current lease on the Gyumri base expires in 2044.
In March, more than 8,000 Russian ground troops took part in military drills in Armenia, Crimea and the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, among others.