Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signaled his country’s plans to buy more weapons from Russia after talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held in Baku on Tuesday.
“There are periodical press reports on the volume of [Russian-Azerbaijani military] cooperation that do not always reflect the realities. I must say that as of today the volume of military-technical cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan is measured at $4 billion and it tends to grow further,” news agencies quoted Aliyev as telling a joint news conference with Putin. He expressed confidence that military ties between the two countries will grow closer.
Aliyev referred to a recent revelation by the Russian press that Moscow has begun delivering around $1 billion worth of offensive weapons to Baku in accordance with defense contracts signed two years ago. The Azerbaijani military is reportedly due to receive, among other things, around 100 T-90 tanks and over a dozen Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems, one of the most destructive weapons of their kind. Russian government officials have effectively confirmed this information.
Citing an unnamed source close to Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms exporter, the Moscow daily “Vedomosti” said on Wednesday that the figure cited by Aliyev is “the sum of all contracts concluded and partly executed since 2010.” It said the two sides could cut new arms deals.
Incidentally, Anatoly Isaykin, Rosoboronexport’s chief executive, was among Russian officials that accompanied Putin during what was his first trip to Azerbaijan in seven years. Putin and Aliyev announced no concrete defense agreements after their talks.
The $1 billion deal revealed by “Vedomosti” in June was preceded by other significant Russian arms sales to Armenia’s arch-foe. In particular, the Russians supplied Azerbaijan in 2010 with two batteries of state-of-the-art S-300 air-defense systems worth hundreds of millions of dollars each.
Moscow also reportedly agreed in 2010 to sell 24 Mi-35 helicopter gunships for a combined $360 million. According to the Azerbaijani media, half of them were delivered to Azerbaijan’s armed forces in 2011 and 2012.
“Nezavisimaya Gazeta,” another major Russian daily, reported in January that Putin cancelled the planned delivery of a third S-300 division to Baku after the latter refused to extend Moscow’s lease on a Soviet-era radar station in northern Azerbaijan late last year. APA, a government-linked Azerbaijani news agency, said in April that the Kremlin has also refused to sell dozens of modern warplanes sought by the Azerbaijani government.
Aliyev on Tuesday did not specify the types of more Russian weaponry which his government plans or wants to acquire. Even so, his statements will cause more concern in Armenia, which is locked in an intensifying arms race with oil-rich Azerbaijan.
Russia already faced strong criticism from Armenian political and media circles after the recent revelation of its fresh arms supplies to Baku. Both Russian and Armenian government officials downplayed those supplies, saying that they will not undermine the military balance in the Karabakh conflict. They also implied that Russian military assistance to Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally, will continue unabated.
Russian arms supplies to Armenia, mostly carried out free of charge, appear to have intensified in the last few years. An Armenian pro-government parliamentarian claimed in late May that as many as 120 planeloads of Russian weapons have been transported to Armenia over the past year alone. The commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army, General Movses Hakobian, likewise spoke of large-scale arms acquisitions late last month.
Russian assistance thus remains vital for Armenian efforts to offset Azerbaijan’s massive military build-up. The Azerbaijani government has increased annual military spending by almost 30 times to $3.7 billion during Aliyev’s decade-long rule. Aliyev regularly threatens to forcibly regain control over Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it.
In what might have been a warning to Baku, Putin stated on Tuesday that the Karabakh dispute can be resolved “only by political means.”