A senior Russian parliamentarian on Tuesday expressed skepticism over reports that Russia plans to sell sophisticated air-defense systems to Azerbaijan despite serious concerns in Armenia.
Citing Russian arms industry sources, Russia's “Vedomosti” business daily reported late last month that Azerbaijan last year signed a deal with the Rosoboronexport arms exporter to purchase two batteries of S-300 anti-aircraft systems worth $300 million. A Rosoboronexport spokesman denied the report, saying that the state-run company “has no contractual obligations whatsoever on this matter.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has declined to confirm or refute it. Unnamed ministry officials have been quoted by Russian media as making conflicting statements about the veracity of the information.
In a phone interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Konstantin Zatulin, the deputy chairman of a Russian State Duma committee on former Soviet republics, claimed to be unaware of any missile deals struck by Moscow and Baku.
“I don’t think that such developments will occur anytime soon, especially given that Azerbaijan …. is stepping up its militaristic rhetoric,” he said. “It’s a bad moment for supplying weaponry to a country that’s making such statements.”
Zatulin argued that although Russian-Azerbaijani relations are presently “good,” Moscow is “categorically against the resumption of hostilities and attempts to solve the Karabakh conflict by military means.” “I am convinced that the Russian Federation will use all possible methods of preventing an escalation or resumption of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
Originally designed in the late 1970s and repeatedly upgraded since then, the S-300 system is widely regarded as one of the world’s most potent anti-aircraft weapons. Its surface-to-air missiles have a firing range of up to 200 kilometers, and its radars can simultaneously track up to 100 targets, including both aircraft and cruise missiles.
Russia deployed at least one battery of S-300s at its military base in Armenia in the late 1990s, significantly reinforcing the country’s air defenses. The two countries have since been jointly protecting Armenia’s airspace.
Zatulin, who also runs a Kremlin-linked think-tank in Moscow and specializes in the South Caucasus, underlined the importance of an upcoming agreement that will deepen Russian-Armenian military cooperation. “In all likelihood, there is a need to both underline the enduring value of Russian-Armenian relations and complement this document with new content,” he said, commenting on Moscow’s motives.
“In the existing situation in the South Caucasus, it is extremely important that there be no doubts about the strength of Russian-Armenian ties, since there are quite a lot of insinuations on this score and the development of Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey leaves much to be de desired,” added the lawmaker.
The deal, which will take the form of amendments to a 1995 Russian-Armenian defense treaty, will commit the Russians’ to supplying more modern weaponry to the Armenian military.
Asked just how significant fresh Russian arms supplies are likely to be, Zatulin replied, “In my view, one should get the answer [to this question] from the Armenian side in the first instance, one should hear the opinion of Armenian military officials. Do they think they are satisfied with cooperation with Russia?”
Zatulin asserted in that context that Russian military assistance to Armenia helped to stop the war in Karabakh in 1994 and prevented its resumption. “I think that our cooperation is developing very positively, and, as a rule, Armenian military officials are welcome guests in Russia, both at military academies and those enterprises that produce military hardware,” he said.