President Serzh Sarkisian has reportedly voiced dismay at continuing deliveries of Russian offensive weapons to Azerbaijan, while insisting that Russia remains committed to its military alliance with Armenia.
“It is a very painful subject and our people are worried that our strategic ally sells weapons to Azerbaijan,” Sarkisian told Argentina’s “Clarin” newspaper in an interview given during his official visit to Buenos Aires this week.
“But we are very confident that Armenia has the capability to defend its borders,” he said. “Despite the fact that Russia sells weapons [to Azerbaijan] I have no doubts Russia will honor its commitments to us in times of adversity.”
Sarkisian did not specify what kind of Russian military assistance Armenia expects to receive in case of a renewed war for Nagorno-Karabakh. He insisted instead that despite its decade-long massive military build-up Azerbaijan is still not strong enough to reconquer Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it. “They spend a lot of money on armaments but that cannot guarantee victory,” he said.
Russia appears to have supplied more heavy weapons to Azerbaijan than Armenia, its main regional ally, in the past several years. Citing Russian government data, the UN Register of Conventional Arms revealed last month that Azerbaijan purchased 72 tanks, 34 armored vehicles, 456 artillery systems, 37 attack helicopters and 1,200 rockets and missile systems from Moscow in 2007-2013.
Russian and Azerbaijani officials have estimated the total volume of bilateral defense contracts signed since 2010 at nearly $4 billion. A Russian newspaper reported recently that the figure could rise to $5 billion by the end of this year.
Official Yerevan has so far been careful not to publicly criticize the Russian arms supplies. Some Armenian officials have implied that they are offset by Russian military aid to Armenia. By contrast, Armenian pundits increasingly accuse Moscow of acting against the letter and spirit of Russian-Armenian defense agreements.
Samvel Mkrtchian, a senior Armenian Foreign Ministry official dealing with arms control, admitted on Thursday that the Russians do not brief Yerevan on their military cooperation with Baku. “That doesn’t fit into the framework of our strategic partnership,” he told reporters. “Those dealings are done on a bilateral basis.”
Mkrtchian avoided criticizing Moscow’s stance, saying that “Armenia is acting in the same manner.” Asked whether that means Armenia can sell weapons to countries that are in conflict with Russia, he said, “You’re getting into theoretical issues that are not applicable in practice.”