Azerbaijan has expressed serious concern over Armenia’s reported purchase from Moldova last month of rockets and other weapons worth millions of dollars, saying that it will complicate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Elnur Aslanov, head of an analytical unit at President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, on Friday described this and other arms acquisitions by Yerevan as a “serious destabilizing factor” in the region.
“The policy on Nagorno-Karabakh pursued by Armenia testifies to the destructive position of that state in the region,” Russian and Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as telling journalists in Baku. “Any arms acquisition, any increase in the number of weapons in the region certainly does not lay the groundwork for establishing peace and stability and, on the contrary, impedes that.”
Aslanov was commenting on reports that large quantities of weapons and ammunition that were shipped from Moldova to Armenia by an Armenian cargo plane on September 13-14.
According to Moldovan media, the secret deal was formalized this summer through a Latvian intermediary firm, Latspetsexport. The government of Moldova has essentially confirmed that information after it sparked a political scandal in the former Soviet republic later in September.
The Moldovan news agency Omega last week claimed to have obtained copies of the Chisinau government’s contracts with Latspetsexport worth $3.3 million. It said they envisage the sale of several types of Soviet-made anti-tank and other rocket systems along with thousands pieces of ammunition used by them.
Those allegedly included a dozen BM-27 Uragan (Hurricane) multiple-launch rocket systems that have a firing range of up to 35 kilometers. “According to authorities in Moldova, some of these weapons have already been shipped to Armenia,” reported Omega.
Official Yerevan has declined to deny or confirm the reports. “In the interests of national security, details regarding the quantity and types of weapons and the party selling them are not subject to publication,” Davit Karapetian, the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, said on September 23.
The Azerbaijani government reacted negatively to the reported arms deliveries. Moldova’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Igor Bodiu, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Baku to provide explanations. Bodiu afterwards described the deal as an “unfortunate mistake” that damaged his country’s relations with Azerbaijan.
Together with Ukraine and Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan are part of the GUAM grouping of four ex-Soviet states which has acted as a counterweight to Russia in the larger Commonwealth of Independent States.
Aliyev was reported to raise the matter with Moldova’s Prime Minister Vladimir Filat when the two met in Warsaw on the sidelines of a European Union summit on September 30. Omega quoted Filat as saying that he was invited to visit Baku “in order to continue the discussion.”
Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian dismissed the Azerbaijani protests as “aggressive whining” later on Friday. “And this is natural because Baku has to explain to its own people where the billions [of dollars,] which are constantly trumpeted about from various podiums and supposed to be spent on military procurements, have ended up and why its policy of military blackmail in [peace] negotiations has failed,” Kocharian said in a statement.
Azerbaijan has spent billions of dollars in oil revenues on buying weapons which it hopes will enable it to eventually win back Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories. It plans to boost military spending to $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.15 a year ago. By comparison, Armenia’s defense budget for 2011 is projected to reach only $400 million.
The Armenian side has sought to offset this spending gap mainly through close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”
The Armenian military demonstrated some of its new weaponry, including S-300 air-defense systems, during a high-profile parade staged in Yerevan on September 21. It also for the first time put on display 9K72 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles that are known in the West as Scud-B.