Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian on Friday stressed the importance of a Russian-Armenian agreement on joint manufacturing and maintenance of weapons that will reportedly be signed next month.
Ohanian said the agreement will elevate Armenia’s military-technical cooperation with Russia to “a new level.” The Armenian defense industry will receive a major boost by working with Russian companies “on privileged terms,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin formally authorized his government to sign the accord earlier this week. The Moscow daily “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” cited on Friday Russian military sources as saying that it will be signed in early February.
The unnamed sources said that the deal envisages the creation of a “joint defense enterprise” that will presumably be based in Armenia. “With the help of the Russian Federation, Armenia’s defense industry is to launch the production of some types of ammunition and armored vehicles as well as to create a joint maintenance facility for weapons of not only ground troops but also air and air-defense forces,” reported the paper.
The Armenian government likewise revealed in November that the planned agreement commits Armenian and Russian defense companies to supplying each other with equipment, assembly parts and other materials needed for the production, modernization and repair of various arms.
According to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta,” Moscow has also reinforced the Russian military base in Armenia by doubling the number of its soldiers serving there on a contractual basis. The independent daily quoted Russian military analysts as linking this with the possibility of a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh and U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran.
“The question of whether or not the Russian troops would help to repel an aggression against Armenia is a political one,” said Yuri Netkachev, a retired Russian general. “But what is absolutely clear is that our military base there must be combat-ready, including for the conduct of peacekeeping operations.”
Netkachev pointed in that regard to Azerbaijan’s growing threats to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force.
A Russian-Armenian defense accord signed in 2010 extended the presence of the Russian base headquartered in Gyumri by 24 years, until 2044. It also committed Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.”
Ali Ahmedov, deputy chairman of Azerbaijan’s ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party, was reported on Thursday to express concern at the impending Russian-Armenian deal, saying that it calls into question Russia’s status as one of the international mediators in Karabakh peace talks.
“How will a country that assumed a mediating role in the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict link military-technical cooperation with one of the parties to the conflict with the settlement process?” Ahmedov told the government-linked Azerbaijani news agency APA.
In a separate report, APA claimed that Russian shipped large quantities of weapons and military hardware to Armenia in the last several months. It listed specific armored vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft systems and rockets along with ammunition for them.
Ohanian commented ambiguously when asked about the Azerbaijani report at a news conference in Yerevan. “I think that it does not correspond to reality also in the sense that they did not list all deliveries,” he said jokingly.
Ohanian also declared that Armenia army can hit any target in Azerbaijan. “The imported as well as our domestically manufactured weaponry and military equipment are primed for combat use,” he said. “They have been successfully tested during military exercises, enabling us to strike the enemy in the entire depth of its territory.”
“And given the existence of our precise weapons, we are able to strike the most important strategic facilities and avoid any damage to the civilian population,” added Ohanian.
The Armenian military said in October it simulated missile strikes on military targets as well as oil and gas installations in Azerbaijan during major exercises. It implied that those facilities will be struck in the event of a new Karabakh war.
Azerbaijan condemned those threats and said its army is strong enough to protect Azerbaijani oil infrastructure and hit any target in Armenia.
Over the past decade, Baku has spent billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues on a military buildup which it hopes will eventually enable it to win back Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave. President Ilham Aliyev said this week that Azerbaijan’s defense budget will rise to $3.7 billion this year, up from $3 billion last year.