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Operational Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus
Gruppa rossiyskikh voysk v Zakavkaz'e, (GRVZ)

The town of Gyumri, 80 miles north of the Armenian capital, hosts a Russian army base where around 5,000 troops are stationed. The base consists of three mechanized infantry, one artillery and one anti-aircraft missile regiment. Units of fourth-generation MiG-29 fighter jets are also deployed in the region. The Russian base has about 100 T-72 tanks, around 150 BMP-2 and BTR-70/80 armored vehicles, BM-21 Grad and BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launchers, a battalion of S-300V and Buk-M1 air-defense systems, as well as Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters.

On 14 November 2016 Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a proposal by the Russian government to form a joint Russian-Armenian force. The agreement is for the term of five years with an automatic extension option if neither of the parties wishes to terminate the cooperation. A similar agreement is already in force between Russia and Belarus. Under the new agreement, Russian troops cannot be used in the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, which would be defended only by the Armenian armed forces."

According to military experts, in the case of an attack against one of the parties, troops from the two countries will jointly counter the threat. Under the agreement, servicemen of the Russian Federation and Armenia commit themselves to repelling any armed attack against each of the parties, as well as suppressing any attempts at illegal entry across the borders of the two countries. In peacetime, the group of forces in the Caucasus region will be commanded by the General Staff of Armenia. However, in any period of hostilities, all the leadership in this area will be transferred to the Command of Russia's Southern Military District, stationed in Rostov-on-Don (670 miles south of Moscow).

The most important thing is that a 'common defense space' between the two countries will be created now. In addition to the development of joint plans for training and combat use of troops, Armenia will be able to buy Russian weapons at domestic prices, rather than as a foreign customer. In case of an attack on Armenia, the entire army of the Southern Military District (the forces of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla, ground forces, the air force, etc.) will join in the defense of its territory.

Should the need arise, Russian Forces in Georgia could be augmented by units and sub-units from the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri (Armenia), where 74 tanks, 165 BMP-1s and -2s and BTR-70s and -80s; and 84 artillery weapons are concentrated. Besides this, the base is reinforced by an air defense squadron with 14 MiG-29s, S-300V air defense systems (with a 100-km strike radius, or 40-km for ballistic missiles), and Obzor-3 and Nebo-SV radio tracking stations (RTSs), with a range of up to 300 km.

Together with the Armenian Armed Forces, the 102nd Military Base made up the Transcaucasian Group of the ODKB [Collective Security Treaty Organization], and its purpose was to ward off external threats. Joint exercises were held regularly. Yerevan provides considerable backup support for the base. Aside from the 102nd, also active in Armenia is a joint border guard group (some 3,000), including 10 percent Russian officers, while the soldiers and warrant officers are local Armenians.

In Georgia Russian mercenaries, allegedly bolstered by Russian military support, fought alongside separatist forces from Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. Moscow also backed Northern Ossetia's bid to separate from Georgia. The North Ossetians then moved against Inguish on 31 October 1992, aided by a regiment of the Pskov Airborne Division. In February 1993 Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze's charged that the 128th Motorized Rifle Regiment from Gyumri had been assisting Abkhazian forces. According to other reports the 145th Motorized Rifle Division based in Batumi was defending the borders of the Adzharian autonomous republic. The First Deputy Commander of Russian forces in the Transcaucasus, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Gerasimov, claimed that Georgian leaders were trying to get the division removed from Batumi, where it reportedly enjoyed friendly relations with the local government.

The Russian-backed separatist forces finally defeated Georgian forces in September 1993. In October Georgia was forced to end its strong opposition to membership in the CIS by becoming a full member and signing a series of security cooperation agreements. That step prompted Russia to send military peacekeepers to support government forces, which saved Georgia's president Eduard Shevardnadze from large-scale insurrection and further fragmentation of the country. The terms of the so-called rescue included a Georgian-Russian friendship treaty calling for the establishment of Russian military bases in Georgia for the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus (Gruppa rossiyskikh voysk v Zakavkaz'e, GRVZ). By the end of 1993 just 6,000 servicemen remained on Georgian territory in the ranks of the GRVZ.

In June 1994, Abkhazia and Georgia agreed to the interpositioning of Russian peacekeepers between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to enforce a cease-fire. In September 1995, a Russian-Georgian treaty established twenty-year Russian leases of three bases. The Russian forces continued to share cease-fire enforcement in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, where they had been since 1992, because no treaty had ended that conflict. Russia increased its military contingent in Georgia, which was variously estimated as being between 20-25 thousand men in 1995. Russian peacekeepers were controlling the zones of conflicts both in Abkhazia and in Georgia.

By 1996 the strength of the GRVZ began to decrease and, according to some data, it numbered not more than 8,500 troops. The percentage of local inhabitants in the GRVZ is high; some data show that from 60 to 90 percent of the numerical strength of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases are Georgians and Armenians. Although multinational in name, the the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping forces (CISPKF) in Georgia is almost entirely a Russian military force. CISPKF battalions are arrayed on either side of the Inguri River and have set up numerous check points within the SZ. Some CISPKF battalions come from Russian units garrisoned in Georgia. Also represented in the mission is a battalion from Russia's 27th Motorized Rifle Division (MRD), Totskoye Division, which has trained specifically to conduct PK tasks, participating in several combined exercises with US military units. The UN military observer group deployed in Abkhazia reported cooperative relations with the Russian peacekeepers.

Under the OSCE Istanbul Agreements reached in 1999, the two remaining Russian military bases on Georgian soil - in Batumi and Akhalkalaki - are to be dismantled. Russian forces have already pulled out of two other bases: Vaziani (30 kilometers from Tbilisi) and Gudauta (in Abkhazia, Georgia).

Russian peacekeepers, under the authority of the Commonwealth of Independent States, were stationed in Abkhazia, along with UN observers. Their activities were hampered by land mines and guerrilla activity. Years of negotiations have not resulted in movement toward a settlement.

Working with France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Russia and through the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United States continued to encourage a comprehensive settlement consistent with Georgian independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and other organizations continued to encourage grassroots cooperative and confidence-building measures in the region.

After its partial reform and unification, by 2003 the Group of Russian Forces in Transcaucasia (GRVZ) remained the most capable in the region. At that time, 8,000 soldiers, 153 tanks, 241 armored fighting vehicles, and 140 artillery systems were concentrated at the two military bases stationed in Georgia (the 12th in Batumi and the 62nd in Akhalklaki).

Two more Russian groups, operating under the flag of CIS peacekeeping forces, were concentrated in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Gudauta (Abkhazia), a separate peacekeeping-reserve motorized rifle battalion, and two other battalions operated on the line dividing the opposing sides along the Inguri River and in the Kodori Gorge. There were 1,600 servicemen in Abkhazia, about 100 pieces of military hardware (BMP-1s and -2s [infantry fighting vehicles] and BTRs [armored personnel carriers] of various modifications). The peacekeepers' staff was located in Sokhumi. In South Ossetia, the Russian peacekeeping battalion controls the territory around Tskhinvali and along the Georgian military road. The battalion includes 600 men, plus no less than 50 pieces of combat and aviation hardware.

Two Russian military bases remained in Georgia, in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The decision on the withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Georgia was made at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999. The timeframe for the withdrawal became a stumbling block in the Russian-Georgian relations. The Russian Defense Ministry stated at that time that the bases would be removed not earlier than in three or four years. The Georgian side in its turn insisted that the Russian soldiers should leave Georgia no later than January 1, 2008. As a result of the disagreement Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili refused the invitation to attend the V-E Day celebrations in Moscow in 2005. During the negotiations on 30 May 2005, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili agreed that Russia would withdraw its bases from Georgia in 2008.

Russian and Georgian military delegations finished the coordination of the text of the agreement on the dates, terms of temporary activity and withdrawal of Russian military bases and other military facilities from Georgia during the regular meeting of the Russian and Georgian delegations in Moscow on 16-17 June 2005. The sides hoped to sign the agreement in the nearest future. The delegations were headed by Russian Foreign Ministry's special envoy for relations with the CIS, ambassador at large Igor Savolsky and Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze.

On 27 June 2007, after piecemeal withdrawal of equipment and military personnel, the Russians vacated the base at Akhalkalaki and formally turned control of the facility to the Georgian armed forces. At the time the withdrawal from the base at Batumi was underway but not complete. The Russians reported on 15 November 2007 that they had completely removed their forces from undisputed Georgian territory, with only peacekeepers in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remaining.

Kavkaz-1 continued to be a lucrative assignment for Russian forces. Russian soldiers pay up to USD 1,000 for their postings there, and recoup the cost by demanding money from motorists.

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Page last modified: 16-11-2016 17:07:53 ZULU