By Ruzanna Stepanian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Friday dismissed a sharp increase in Azerbaijan’s defense spending as a “reckless” ploy designed to bully the Armenians into making more concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev said last week that his country’s military budget will increase from $175 million reported in 2004 to $300 million this year in response to the recent relocation of Russian weapons from Georgia to Armenia. Aliev claimed that the Azerbaijani military has already gained superiority over its Armenian adversary, reiterating his threats to win back Karabakh by force.
But Sarkisian questioned the seriousness of those threats. “If their aim is to gain superiority and thereby resolve the Karabakh problem, why are they talking about it so loudly?” he said.
“I repeat that in 2005 the Armenian army has resources which match that sum,” he added. “So we are not scared of those 300 million [dollars.] … I am confident that it is now impossible to solve the problem by military means.”
Armenia’s military budget for this year is projected at 60 billion drams ($135 million), which is 27 percent more than it had last year. The Armenian military and its allied forces in Karabakh are also thought to have other, unpublicized sources of funding and supplies.
Sarkisian also criticized the timing of Aliev’s latest bellicose statements, pointing to “some progress” made by the conflicting parties at their internationally sponsored peace talks in recent months. Aliev himself stated on Thursday that the talks are “going in
a positive direction.”
Sarkisian made the comments as he spoke with reporters during a graduation ceremony at the country’s main military academy.
The powerful defense chief, seen as President Robert Kocharian’s preferred successor, also skirted questions about his presidential ambitions, saying that there are still three years to go before the next Armenian presidential election. “You see, it is still too early [to talk about that],” he said. “Where are we rushing? There are still three years left. Three years.”
Sarkisian remained evasive when pressed to clarify if he indeed has a desire to succeed Kocharian: “What do you mean by a ‘desire’? There will be a desire when we clearly see something. How can you have a desire when you haven’t seen?”