Russia’s official explanations for its large-scale arms supplies to Azerbaijan criticized by Armenia are unconvincing, a senior Armenian official said over the weekend.
“In our official and unofficial contacts with our Russian partners, continuing Russian arms supplies to Azerbaijan remains the thorniest issue on the agenda of Russian-Armenian relations,” said Armen Ashotian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations.
“The Russian side’s justifications are certainly discussed by us and they are not convincing,” Ashotian told reporters. He cited Russian officials’ claims that the multimillion-dollar arms sales are commercial deals that also allow Moscow to hold Baku in check and boost stability in the region.
Russia has sold around $5 billion worth of tanks, artillery systems and other weapons to Azerbaijan in line with defense contracts mostly signed in 2009-2011. The arms deliveries continued even after Armenian leaders strongly criticized them following Azerbaijan’s April 2016 offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Late last month, a Russian cargo ship delivered a new batch of anti-tank missile systems to Baku’s Caspian Sea port. And earlier this month, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry announced that it has received hundreds of Russian thermobaric rockets for TOS-1A multiple-launch systems which it had purchased from Moscow earlier.
Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the lucrative arms deals with Baku after holding talks with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in Moscow last August. Putin implied that oil-rich Azerbaijan could have bought offensive weapons from other nations. He also argued that Russia has long been providing substantial military aid to Armenia.
Incidentally, Putin met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on Friday. In his opening remarks at the meeting, Putin mentioned lingering tensions in the region and said he will explore with Aliyev ways of easing them.
The spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, criticized the continuing Russian arms sales to Baku on July 12. Sharmazanov made clear at the same time that they will not undermine Armenia’s close military ties with Russia.
Ashotian, who is also the HHK’s deputy chairman, likewise argued that disagreements are inevitable even between allies like Russia and Armenia. “Armenia does not have an absolute convergence of foreign policy agendas with any country except the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” he said.
Russia has long been Armenia’s principal supplier of weapons and ammunition. The Armenian military has received Russian weapons at discounted prices or even for free.
Finance Minister Vartan Aramian revealed on July 16 that Armenia is discussing with Russia the possibility of obtaining another loan which it would spend on buying Russian weapons. Moscow already lent Yerevan $200 million for arms acquisitions from Russian manufacturers two years ago.