Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has defended large-scale Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan that sparked renewed and stronger criticism from Armenia following last week’s outbreak of heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an interview with Russian state television aired on Saturday, Medvedev said that both Azerbaijan and Armenia would buy even deadlier weapons from other countries should Moscow discontinue its arms dealings with the two South Caucasus foes.
“At the same time, that could disrupt, to a certain degree the existing military balance” he said, adding that that would only make the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone “even more complicated.”
“I think that weapons could and should be acquired not only for being used at some point but also as a factor of deterrence, and all parties to the conflict must evaluate this,” stressed Medvedev.
The remarks were aired two days after President Serzh Sarkisian publicly complained about Russian arms supplies to Baku at a meeting with Medvedev in Yerevan. Sarkisian said the Azerbaijani army used Russian weapons purchased in recent years against Armenian troops and civilians in Karabakh.
Lawmakers representing Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have slammed Moscow in even stronger terms.
Moscow has supplied Baku with at least $4 billion worth of tanks, artillery systems, attack helicopters and other offensive weapons as part of defense contracts signed in 2009-2011. Medvedev served as Russia’s president at the time.
Russia has also been the main source of weapons delivered to the Armenian military. Last year, for example, it allocated a $200 million loan which Yerevan will spend on buying more Russian weapons at discounted prices.
Armenian critics of the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals argue that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is allied to Russia politically and militarily. They say that the Russian arms sales to Armenia’s arch-foe run counter to that alliance even considering the fact that Moscow has long been providing military assistance to the Armenians. They also claim that the arms contracts with Moscow only emboldened Baku to launch a military operation in and around Karabakh early on April 2.
Moscow helped to largely stop the resulting fierce fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on April 5.