Armenia is discussing with Russia the possibility of obtaining another loan which it would spend on buying Russian weapons, Finance Minister Vartan Aramian revealed on Sunday.
Speaking at a news conference, Aramian declined to specify the amount of the Russian loan sought by the Armenian government. He said only that Russian-Armenian talks on the issue began earlier this year.
Two years ago Russia already lent Armenia $200 million for arms acquisitions from Russian manufacturers. The Russian government subsequently publicized a long list of items which the Armenian side is allowed to buy with that money. It includes, among other things, Smerch multiple-launch rocket system, TOS-1A heavy flamethrowers, anti-tank weapons and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
The Armenian military demonstrated Smerch systems as well as several other new weapons at a September 2016 parade in Yerevan.
According to Aramian, the Armenian government has already spent $170 million of the low-interest loan. He confirmed that the arms supplies financed from the loan are carried out at internal Russian prices that are set well below international market-based levels. Armenia is entitled to such discounts because of its military alliance with Russia.
The close alliance has not prevented Moscow from selling billions of dollars worth of heavy weapons to Azerbaijan in the past several years. Russian arms sales to Baku continued even after unusually strong criticism voiced by Armenian leaders following the April 2016 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In televised comments aired over the weekend, President Serzh Sarkisian reiterated Yerevan’s discontent with the Russian-Azerbaijani arms dealings while seemingly downplaying their impact on the military balance in the Karabakh conflict.
“Nothing serious has happened yet,” he told the Armenia TV channel. “If there are serious consequences at some point we could be able to accuse [the Russians.] If there are no serious consequences, we will regard that as the Russian side’s long-term political effort to stabilize the situation in the region.”
Sarkisian also dismissed as “extremely dangerous” some Armenian politicians’ and pundits’ calls for his administration to revise Armenia’s close ties with Russia because of the Russian-Azerbaijani defense cooperation. “When you say ‘revise,’ with whom do you want a rapprochement?” he said. “With [NATO member] Turkey? And is everyone in NATO waiting with open arms for Armenia to come to them?”