By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian government will beef up its armed forces with more modern weaponry next year without tapping its scarce budgetary funds set aside for defense, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian announced over the weekend.
Sarkisian said the Armenian government’s official defense budget, which is set to grow by almost 12 percent to 49.6 billion drams ($87 million) in 2004, will mainly be used for maintaining the country’s existing military infrastructure. He indicated that the purchase of more arms and military hardware will be financed from unspecified non-budgetary sources.
“The weapons that will be obtained in 2004 will not be paid for from the Defense Ministry’s budget which is designed for [paying] maintenance costs,” he told reporters. “To put it more simply, no arms purchase will affect soldiers’ food rations, clothing and other things.”
Sarkisian declined to specify sources of the planned supplies and payments for them. He said only that the government has “no illegal funds” to boost the Armenian military. “I think the president and the prime minister of the republic will find ways of adding to our weapons and military hardware because we aim to take our army one step forward in 2004,” he said.
Armenia, which remains locked in a conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, has never officially publicized the size of its army or the volume of its defense procurements. Most of the latter are thought to come from Russia, Yerevan’s closest political and military ally. Both countries are members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty (CST) organization of six former Soviet republics.
Visiting Yerevan earlier this month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia will continue weapons deliveries to Armenia “on privileged terms” stemming from CST provisions. He said the supplies will have a “purely defensive character.”
Sarkisian spoke on Saturday after hearings on the Armenian government’s draft defense budget for 2004 held by a key parliament committee behind the closed doors. He noted that despite the planned increase in defense spending, which is likely to be rubber-stamped by lawmakers, the Armenian military will get just over half of what has been earmarked for its Azerbaijani arch-foe.