The significance of the new bilateral Greece-Armenia military cooperation agreement
In March, Greece and Armenia signed the 'Greece-Armenia Military Cooperation Program' covering 21 bilateral military activities for 2023. The deal notably follows the 'Three Brothers' military exercises carried out between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan beginning in September 2021. Are Athens and Yerevan increasing bilateral military cooperation in response to rapidly expanding military cooperation between their rivals?
"I rather see continuity on the matter which is certainly significant in military affairs," George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the European Institute of Nice (Centre International de Formation Européenne, CIFE), told Gercek News.
Military cooperation between Greece and Armenia is hardly new. Members of the Armenian armed forces started getting trained in Greece in 1993, merely three years after Yerevan became independent from the Soviet Union.
Cooperation broadened in 1996. That year, according to Tzogopoulos, a bilateral Greek-Armenian agreement set the basis of cooperation. It also "stipulated for armament program issues, defense industry, military research and development, military education and training, strategic and regional studies, the 'Partnership for Peace' program, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, logistical support, and special services."
"The March 2023 agreement is placed in this context and also covers conversations at the highest level 'with special emphasis on military intelligence'," Tzogopoulos said. "It additionally mentions the possibility of military education in the Hellenic Multinational Peace Support Operations Training Center, a 'Partnership for Peace' training center recognized by NATO."
Under this agreement, Greece and Armenia will conduct joint training of special forces, co-train on electronic warfare, and share their experiences on air defense.
The agreement also aims to strengthen the respective armed forces' ties, operational capabilities, and interoperability. Armenia's military inventory consists of Soviet and Russian equipment, while NATO member Greece has a large arsenal of American, French, and German weaponry.
Athens also has a significant amount of Russian military hardware, especially for a NATO country that wasn't previously in the Warsaw Pact, which notably includes high-altitude S-300 air defense missile systems. Armenia also operates the S-300, albeit a different version. The agreement's mention of sharing experiences and lessons regarding air defenses could refer to their respective S-300s. Armenian S-300s were destroyed by Azerbaijani Israeli-built Harop loitering munitions – so-called "suicide" drones that crash into their targets and explode – in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. Greece reportedly allowed Israel to train against its S-300s on Crete to test their effectiveness.
Tzogopoulos noted that the official announcement of the bilateral cooperation agreement by the Hellenic National Defense General Staff "officially refers to meetings and talks on themes of mutual interest 'with special emphasis on military intelligence'" and that "all issues can be on the agenda."
"This means that Greek and Armenian delegations will likely share the S-300 experience," he said. "It's all about mutual trust."
Since the aftermath of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan have increased military cooperation and held joint training exercises, dubbed Three Brothers, to increase interoperability between their armed forces. Since those exercises began, defense ties between Armenia and Pakistan's rival India have notably increased. Armenia became the first foreign customer for India's Pinaka multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in a deal valued at $250 million.
That, coupled with growing Armenia-Greece military cooperation, seemingly suggests that a loose Greece-Armenia-India alliance could potentially emerge to rival the Three Brothers. Greece also has good defense ties with India. New Delhi will participate in Greece's annual Inichos 2023 air force exercise this April with some of its Su-30MKI fighter jets. These Russian-built Indian jets will train with Greece's U.S.-built F-16s and French-built Dassault Rafale fighters.
Tzogopoulos sees potential for the Greek-Armenian military cooperation to extend beyond the two countries and occasionally include the Republic of Cyprus. He noted that Greece, Armenia, and Cyprus already signed a joint action plan on co-training, meetings of military delegations, and experience sharing on air defense systems and drones in May 2022.
"There are challenges the two different groups of the three countries: namely Greece, Armenia and Cyprus on the one hand, and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan on the other, are discussing and which have the potential of creating a coherent set of interests for the two groups separately," he said. "However, I would not talk about alliances because national interests of the 3+3 countries do arguably intersect."
"As far as India is concerned, its security interests are different from the ones of Greece and Cyprus, although Greece and India, in particular, have recently intensified contacts," he added. "India and Armenia are improving ties (and arms deals are noted), but the complexity of the situation in the region does hardly allow Mediterranean countries to be actively involved."