Russia’s large-scale arms sales to Azerbaijan changed the Armenian-Azerbaijani military balance and greatly facilitated the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh, former President Robert Kocharian said on Wednesday.
He also criticized Armenia’s current government for failing to thwart the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals worth an estimated $5 billion and to provide the Armenian armed forces with more modern equipment that would have offset the Azerbaijani military buildup.
“Everyone wanted to believe that the military alliance with Russia at least guarantees the maintenance of the military balance, namely Armenia’s and Karabakh’s security,” Kocharian said in comments posted on his unofficial website, 2rd.am. “Before the implementation of [defense] contracts signed by Baku and Moscow in 2011 the balance between the [conflicting] parties in terms of the quality of weaponry was maintained. But it turned out that things are much more complicated.”
While insisting that Russia is not interested in an escalation of the Karabakh conflict, Kocharian stressed: “Supplies of state-of-the-art offensive weapons to Baku disrupted the balance, considerably increasing the likelihood of such a scenario.”
Those weapons included more than 90 tanks as well as dozens of combat helicopters, multiple-launch rocket systems, howitzers and heavy flamethrowers. President Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian officials have publicly denounced their lucrative sale to Azerbaijan, saying that the Azerbaijani army used some of these weapons during the April 2-5 hostilities along the Karabakh “line of contact.”
In public, Russian leaders have dismissed the Armenian criticism, saying that Russian arms supplies to both Baku and Yerevan have actually strengthened the military balance in Karabakh and reduced the likelihood of a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Kocharian, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, said the Sarkisian government could have scuttled the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals had it acted immediately after their signing in 2010-2011. “Armenia should have managed to halt the implementation of the Russian-Azerbaijani agreements or at least limit it in terms of the variety [supplied weapons] or synchronize that with commensurate supplies to Armenia,” he said. “It had more than enough arguments [to convince the Russians.]”
The ex-president claimed that the current Armenian government could have also countered the “noticeable” superiority gained by Baku by providing the Armenian military with more, relatively inexpensive equipment such as night-vision devices and radios. “The existing shortcomings must be immediately eliminated, and efforts are obviously being made in that direction,” he said. “But this has to be done at an institutional level, not on a patriotic basis, as was the case at the start of the  Karabakh movement.”
“Volunteers must go to the frontlines not spontaneously but be sent there by military commissariats in accordance with their military skills,” he added.
Kocharian last month visited Karabakh and met with its leadership to discuss the fallout from what was the worst fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces since 1994. He also toured several sections of the Karabakh “line of contact.”
Kocharian has avoided any direct contact with Sarkisian, underlining a rift with his successor and erstwhile ally. The ex-president has increasingly criticized Sarkisian’s policies in recent years, stoking speculation about his return to active politics.
The speculation again intensified after former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and several other political figures widely regarded as Kocharian supporters set up a new opposition party in April. The ex-president denied having links with the party on May 13.
Later in May, General Samvel Babayan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former army commander, returned to Armenia after several years of self-imposed exile in Russia. Babayan signaled plans to resume his political or military activities in an interview with a news website sympathetic to Kocharian. He cited the increased risk of renewed war with Azerbaijan.
Babayan, Kocharian and Sarkisian are all natives of Karabakh who led the Armenian-populated region during its 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. Kocharian is believed to have had a particularly close rapport with the once powerful general.