By Emil Danielyan
Russia on Wednesday denied Azerbaijani media reports that it supplied Armenia with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware and other weapons free of charge last year.
An Azerbaijani news website, Mediaforum.az, published late last week scanned copies of what it called a document certifying the transfer of the weapons that belonged to Russian troops stationed in Armenia.
The document, signed by a deputy commander of Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, contained a long list of armaments allegedly handed over to the Armenian military. Those included 21 battle tanks, 50 armored vehicles, about 40 artillery systems and more than 4,000 automatic rifles along with large quantities of ammunition.
The Azerbaijani government was quick to express concern at the report, demanding an official explanation from Moscow. The Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Vasily Istratov, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Baku.
The Itar-Tass news agency quoted a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, as denying the alleged transfer of weapons. “Reports about that do not correspond to reality,” Drobyshevsky said. He added that Moscow will officially respond to Baku “very soon.”
The Armenian Defense Ministry denied the Azerbaijani reports earlier this week. “Armenia is a member of the [Russian-led] Collective Treaty Organization (CSTO) and we have military contacts with Russia,” a ministry spokesman, Seyran Shahsuvarian, told journalists. “But I don’t remember any [weapons] acquisitions in recent years.”
Membership in the CSTO entitles Armenia to receiving Russian weapons at cut-down prices or even free of charge. It is believed to heavily rely on close military ties with Russia in the intensifying arms race with oil-rich Azerbaijan.
Using its soaring oil revenues, Azerbaijan embarked in the early 2000s on a military build-up which its leaders hope will eventually force the Armenians to give up control over Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding lands. Its defense spending has skyrocketed since then and is projected to pass the $2 billion mark this year. In his New Year’s address to the nation, President Ilham Aliev urged Azerbaijanis to be prepared for renewed war “at any moment.”
By comparison, Armenia’s defense budget for 2009 is projected at about $500 million.