Azerbaijan is unlikely to provoke an all-out war in Nagorno-Karabakh anytime soon because of “irreparable” losses that it would suffer as a result, Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian said on Wednesday.
Sargsian also criticized the latest delivery of Russian weapons to Azerbaijan, while indicating that it will not affect Armenia’s close military ties with Russia.
“I am almost certain that a large-scale war will not break out for the simple reason that such a war cannot solve the Karabakh problem … in Azerbaijan’s favor,” he told a news conference. “On the contrary, there is a very big risk that in case of a large-scale war Azerbaijan would suffer irreparable damage to its economy and state.”
“Incidentally, I don’t minimize the dangers of a full-scale war for Armenia,” he went on. “One does not negate the other. But to deliberately opt for a large-scale war in this situation would be an act of madness on the part of Azerbaijan’s leadership.”
Sargsian suggested that Baku, which regularly threatens a military solution to the Karabakh dispute, will instead continue to violate the ceasefire in the conflict zone on a smaller scale.
On June 16, three soldiers of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army were killed by Azerbaijani forces in a single shooting incident. Another Armenian soldier was shot dead at a different frontline section the following morning, leading the Defense Army to promise a “targeted and disproportionate” retaliation.
Earlier on June 16, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported that one of its soldiers was shot dead by the Armenian side. The warring sides blamed each other for the escalation that coincided with the latest visit to the conflict zone by U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
On June 22, the Karabakh army claimed to have killed four Azerbaijani soldiers while thwarting an overnight incursion attempted by Azerbaijani forces. The Azerbaijani military denied the claim.
Sargsian said that at least 8 Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed in “punitive” actions taken by Karabakh Armenian forces in the last ten days. “The unconfirmed number is much higher,” he claimed.
The 42-year-old minister was also asked about a new batch of anti-tank missile systems which Russia delivered to Azerbaijan late last week as part of lucrative arms deals with Baku. “I view very negatively any arms delivery to Azerbaijan first of all because Azerbaijan is an unpredictable country lacking mechanisms for democratic control,” he replied.
“In that regard, any supply of weapons [to Azerbaijan] -- be it Russian weapons, Israeli weapons or Turkish weapons -- creates new risks because it’s hard to predict who will be making decisions in that country,” added Sargsian.
Russia has also sold around $5 billion worth of tanks, artillery systems and other weapons to Azerbaijan in line with defense contracts signed in 2009-2011. The Armenian government publicly criticized those deals following four-day hostilities in Karabakh that broke out in April 2016.
Asked whether the latest arms shipment means Moscow is ignoring Yerevan’s concerns, Sargsian said: “No, we cannot say that.”
Sargsian also stressed in that context that Armenia has long been acquiring Russian weapons at discount price thanks to its military alliance with Russia. The Armenian side is satisfied with the ongoing “very ambitious program” of military cooperation with Moscow, he said.