Ohanian gave no details of those acquisitions as he met with the faculty and students of Yerevan State University. He said only that 2010 was “unprecedented for us in terms of obtaining weapons and military hardware.”
“The expansion of our military capacity will continue in 2011, and it will be no less large-scale than it was in 2010,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after the meeting. “Let me not specify numbers.”
Armenia officially confirmed in late December that it possesses Russian-made surface-to-air missiles widely regarded as one of the world’s most potent anti-aircraft weapons. The Armenian military displayed the S-300 air-defense systems in a report broadcast by state television.
Earlier in December, President Serzh Sarkisian and his National Security Council approved a five-year plan to modernize Armenia’s armed forces. It envisages, among other things, the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons.
Armenian officials do not deny that the plan is connected with the ongoing military build-up in Azerbaijan and Baku’s threats to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force.
Ohanian reiterated Tuesday that the Armenian side is seeking to not only stay in the arms race but also improve the combat-readiness of its troops. “We are trying to concentrate on raising qualitative standards and combat spirits,” he said. The ongoing “serious defense reforms” will also strengthen the army, the minister said.
The Azerbaijani government has said that it will sharply increase military spending to over $3 billion this year. By comparison, Armenia’s defense budget for 2011 is projected to reach only $405 million.
Armenia has sought to maintain the balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict zone with close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at cut-down prices or even free of charge. Analysts believe that it will continue doing so in the years to come.
A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed last August, commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”
The Armenian government’s stated efforts to strengthen and reform the military are called into question by continuing non-combat deaths and other violent incidents in the army ranks, which have come under greater public scrutiny in recent months. The problem was discussed in Yerevan on Tuesday at a seminar attended by Defense Ministry officials, human rights activists and lawyers.
In a report released during the discussion, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, a Vanadzor-based human rights group, claimed that 42 Armenian soldiers died last year and that only 9 of them were shot by Azerbaijani forces. It said more than half of them were murdered by fellow servicemen.
Defense Ministry spokesman Davit Karapetian dismissed the figures as inaccurate. But he refused to release official statistics on army deaths.
Some seminar participants accused the military of failing to properly investigate many army crimes and punishing their perpetrators. Defense Ministry representatives denied that.
Ohanian similarly insisted that the military authorities have stepped up the prosecution of delinquent servicemen. “All those criminal cases are under control,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We will continue to keep things under control and there will no cases of criminals not getting punishment deserved by them.”