By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia is hoping to secure fresh supplies of conventional weapons from Russia in a bid to improve its defense capacity that was already significantly bolstered by Moscow in the 1990s, it was revealed on Wednesday.
The announcement, which is bound to prompt protests from its arch-foe Azerbaijan, was made by senior Russian and Armenian security officials after their talks in Yerevan.
Vladimir Rushaylo, the visiting secretary of Russia’s security council, said Moscow is currently considering Yerevan’s request for more Russian-made arms. Speaking to reporters at the end of a three-day visit to Armenia, Rushaylo said the decision depends on the conclusion to be given by Russian defense experts.
Both he and his Armenian opposite number, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, refused to give any details as to what kind of new weaponry the Armenian military is seeking to obtain. Nor was it clear whether the arms would be sold or transferred to Armenia free of charge.
According to Rushaylo, the sensitive supplies, if they are approved by his government, would be carried out within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty to which the two allied states are key signatories. He did not specify what that would mean.
Sarkisian, for his part, said Armenia will continue to stick to conventional arms quotas set by the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, a key instrument of post-Cold War security.
The military alliance with Russia has been the linchpin of Armenia’s security and defense policies since independence. It has enabled the impoverished country, still locked in a dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, to arm and equip its military. Some Russian politicians alleged in the late 1990s that the weapons deliveries were clandestine and amounted to as much as $1 billion. The allegations were picked up by Azerbaijan which portrayed them as proof of Moscow’s perceived pro-Armenian stance in the Karabakh conflict.
However, both the Russian and Armenian governments have denied any illegal shipments which Baku believes disrupted the balance of forces between the two conflicting parties.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were until recently covered by a U.S. arms embargo due to their unresolved dispute. They were officially removed on March 29 from the list of countries barred from purchasing U.S. defense equipment, including munitions, or military training under the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The move followed Washington’s decision to provide military assistance to the two regional rivals as part of its global anti-terror drive.
Similar arms restrictions imposed by the European Union at the start of the Karabakh war remain in force.
Meanwhile, meeting with President Robert Kocharian, Rushaylo passed on to him a written message from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kocharian’s press office cited Putin as writing that his recent meetings with the Armenian leader “allowed to solve a number of important issues related to the deepening of the allied partnership between the two countries.”
Rushaylo said he briefed Kocharian on the results of last week’s U.S.-Russian summit in Moscow. He said landmark agreements reached by Putin and President George W. Bush also cover “settlement of the conflicts in the Caucasus.” But he cautioned that the ongoing U.S.-Russian rapprochement will not end those conflicts “overnight.”
In a joint statement, Bush and Putin urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "exhibit flexibility and a constructive approach" to resolving the conflict, adding that as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group their countries "are ready to assist with these efforts."
Also on the agenda of the Russian security chief’s talks in the Armenian capital was the “economic security” of the two countries, officials said. Sarkisian said the two sides discussed in particular continued supplies of Russian natural gas and other energy resources to Armenia.
There was no word about the long awaited signing of a crucial agreement that would give the Russians control of five Armenian enterprises in return for Moscow writing off Yerevan’s $96 million debt. Rushaylo was only quoted as telling Kocharian that the intergovernmental commission on bilateral economic cooperation, which has been working on the deal for more than a year, should step up its activities.
Sarkisian, who is a co-chairman of the commission, avoiding giving any dates for its signing.