(AFP, AP) - Russia said Wednesday a solution to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh should not depend on elections held there, and that the presence of Russian observers at the vote did not imply recognition.
"Moscow considers that the resolution of the conflict should not depend on the organization of such and such elections in Nagorno Karabakh," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Officials of the breakaway state have argued that Sunday's vote, from which the ruling party emerged victorious, was a step toward international recognition.
"The Russian citizens who traveled there as observers are in Karabakh on their own accord and exclusively in a personal role," the statement said. The ministry reiterated that Russia "has never recognized Nagorno Karabakh as an independent state," and "always supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan."
Azerbaijan considers any vote in the region illegal until hundreds of thousands of Azeris banished from Karabakh and seven surrounding regions are allowed to return.
In a related development, Azerbaijan's parliament voted on Tuesday to increase defense spending this year by almost a quarter. The assembly voted 100-0 in favor of amending the 2005 budget to lift the projections for government income and spending. The oil-rich Caspian Sea state has benefited from record crude prices on the world markets.
Defense spending is to rise by more than 23 percent to $313 million, with most of the extra funds earmarked on buying new equipment. The country's overall expenditure is going up by 10 percent.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev last week boasted of his country's military muscle at a rally of the ruling party in the capital Baku as Armenia accused Azerbaijan of pursuing a weapons build up in violation of a key arms control treaty.
"Azerbaijan has recently got the upper hand in negotiations with Armenia over the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," he said. "Military and economic potential are on our side. We will get our lands back," said Aliev.