The Armenian army is strong enough to contain Azerbaijan and maintain the Nagorno-Karabakh status quo without Russia’s direct military intervention, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisted on Tuesday.
Ohanian said that Armenia will therefore not appeal to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for assistance in the face of what it calls growing ceasefire violations by Azerbaijani forces. “The Armenian army has proved that it is a constantly improving and developing force and I don’t think that these outbreaks of tension could force us to appeal to the CSTO,” he told a news conference.
“We are now prepared for any action and, if need be, we can turn the Line of Contact [around Karabakh] and the adjacent enemy territory into a hotspot which [the enemy] wouldn’t make sense of,” he said, echoing threats voiced by President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday.
Addressing the Armenian army’s top brass and top Defense Ministry officials in Yerevan, Sarkisian warned that he could order stronger “asymmetric” strikes against the Azerbaijani military if the latter launches more armed incursions along “the line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. His remarks followed a fresh upsurge in deadly fighting in the Karabakh conflict zone which the warring sides blame on each other.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry brushed aside Sarkisian’s threats on Tuesday. “The armed forces of Azerbaijan will fight for the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity until the last drop of our blood,” the ministry said in a statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies.
As well as warning of stronger Armenian retaliation, Ohanian said that a renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war is still not likely despite the latest escalation. “The head of a military structure can’t afford to rule out by 100 percent limited or full-scale hostilities,” he said. “But we will do everything -- and our military-political leadership is working in that direction -- to prevent [ceasefire violations] from turning into an all-out war. I don’t think we are now seeing such a trend.”
Armenia is aligned in the CSTO together with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It also hosts a Russian military base on its soil. Armenian leaders say a perceived security threat from Turkey, rather than Azerbaijan, is the main reason for the Russian military presence in the country.