Russia’s top army general has signaled Moscow’s readiness to sell more weapons to Azerbaijan during a rare visit to Baku.
General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian army’s General Staff, arrived in the Azerbaijani capital on Monday to attend a meeting of fellow army chiefs from other ex-Soviet states. Gerasimov also held talks with Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov and the chief of the army staff, General Nejmeddin Sadigov.
“We discussed with the chief of the [Azerbaijani] General Staff further military-technical cooperation. There are prospects for stepping it up,” Gerasimov told Hasanov, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Hasanov was reported to praise the “high level” of that cooperation. “In recent years, a lot of work has been done in this direction,” he said. “Today Azerbaijan’s armed forces receive modern weapons from Russia. That helps to boost our country’s defense capability.”
“Russia is our main partner in military-technical cooperation,” Sadigov said for his part. “The implementation of big [arms] deals is continuing.”
The scale of those deals was most recently exposed in June last year when it emerged that Russian has begun delivering $1 billion worth of offensive weaponry, including about 100 tanks, to Azerbaijan in accordance with defense contracts signed in 2010-2011. Azerbaijani President Ilham President Ilham Aliyev said in August that “the volume of military-technical cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan is measured at $4 billion and it tends to grow further.”
The Russians had previously supplied Azerbaijan with state-of-the-art S-300 air-defense systems worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They also agreed in 2010 to sell 24 Mi-35 helicopter gunships for a combined $360 million.
The recent Russian arms deliveries to Armenia’s arch-foe raised eyebrows in Yerevan, with local politicians and pundits accusing Moscow of acting against the spirit of the Russian-Armenian military alliance. Armenian government leaders refrained from voicing such criticism, however. They insisted that the Russian-Azerbaijani defense contracts will not change the military balance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Top Russian security officials gave similar assurances last summer. They also implied that Russian military assistance to Armenia will continue unabated.
Russian arms supplies to Armenia, mostly carried out free of charge, appear to have intensified in the last few years. “In the last three years we have acquired as much weaponry as we did in the previous 20 years,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian declared in September.
Russian assistance is critical 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.
General Gerasimov reportedly told the Azerbaijani military leaders that Moscow is against attempts at a military solution to the Karabakh conflict.