Russia waves its trump cards

If Russia was playing any games in the South Caucasus last week, as it waved its S-300 missile system back and forth, the game’s name must have been Durak. Not Poker, not Preferans, but Durak, a very Russian card game that is popular throughout most of the post-Soviet states.

First, on July 29th a media report emerged last week, that Azerbaijan had purchased anti-aircraft missile systems worth $300 million from Russia, which was quickly dismissed by Moscow’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

On July 30th,  much in the same manner, another Russian media source published news about a planned agreement between Moscow and Yerevan, which would assign Russia and its troops a greater role in ensuring Armenia’s security. The report, confirmed by sources in Armenia as well as in Russia, were fast seen as a signal that Armenia will gain access to Russian S-300 missile systems located in a Russian base in Northern Armenia.

On August 1st and 2nd more media reports followed in the Russian press, again on the planned sale of S-300 to Azerbaijan, which offered conflicting statements from Russia’s Ministry of Defense and other parties involved. The main player, of course, Russia’s Ministry of Defense, neither confirmed, nor denied the planned sale of the missiles to Azerbaijan.

What’s the fuss about? See below!

Meet the trump: S-300

Armenia -- S-300 surface-to-air missiles at a Russian military base in Gyumri, undated.

Originally designed in the late 1970s and repeatedly upgraded since then, the S-300 system is widely regarded as one of the world’s most potent anti-aircraft weapons. Its surface-to-air missiles have a firing range of up to 200 kilometers, and its radars can simultaneously track up to 100 targets, including both aircraft and cruise missiles.

Russia deployed at least one battery of S-300s in Armenia in the late 1990s, significantly reinforcing main regional ally’s air defenses. The two countries have since been jointly protecting Armenia’s airspace.

Their joint air-defense system was given a “regional” status by the CSTO, the Russian-led military alliance of seven ex-Soviet states, in early 2007. Top Russian military officials said at the time that Moscow has further upgraded Armenia’s anti-aircraft capacity and trained Armenian specialists to operate S-300s. The Armenian military confirmed that, saying the training process began in 2005.

Source: RFE/RL Armenian Service

PS: The object of Durak is to get rid of all one’s cards, including those of the trump set. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is referred to as the fool (durak). From what we’ve seen and heard so far, Russia will pass a couple of its trumps to Azerbaijan, and we got at least one left on our hands in the Gyumri base. It’s still very unclear, who’ll be the looser, but Russia is certainly the winner!

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