Armenia is open to discussing a possible purchase of military equipment from the United States if there is a good offer, according to the acting prime minister of the South Caucasus nation that has allied relations with Russia.
Visiting Armenia on October 25, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said the issue of possible sales of American military equipment was also addressed during his meeting with the acting head of the Armenian government, Nikol Pashinian.
During an exclusive interview with RFE/RL that day Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian asked the senior White House official a question about possible alternatives for post-Soviet nations in a region where Russia still remains a big player in security terms. Among such “alternatives” Bolton mentioned the area of weapons sales.
“We have restrictions Congress has imposed on the United States in terms of [weapons] sales to Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the conflict [in Nagorno-Karabakh]. But there are exceptions to that. And as I said to the prime minister, if it’s a question of buying Russian military equipment versus buying U.S. military equipment, we’d prefer the later. We think our equipment is better than the Russians’ anyway. So we want to look at that. And I think it increases Armenia’s options when it’s not entirely dependent on one major power. I understand the geographical situation and the historical antecedents to all of this. But I think this is a time to be optimistic that Armenia can emerge more on the world stage,” Trump’s national security advisor said, in particular.
This statement elicited mixed reactions from political parties in Armenia.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) parliamentary faction, described such statements as “unacceptable”, claiming that they incite a war between the parties to the conflict. The senior member of the HHK led by former president Serzh Sarkisian referred to the principle of prohibiting arms supplies to warring parties. “This escalates the situation and aggravates the negotiating process,” Baghdasarian said on Friday.
Asked by media on Saturday whether Yerevan is actually going to purchase military equipment from the United States, Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Pashinian said: “The [Armenian] government is not constrained by anything. If there is an offer from the United States that is good for us, we will discuss it.”
So far, Russia has supplied weapons in large numbers to both Armenia and Azerbaijan despite being one of the international co-sponsors of peace talks between the two countries on ways to resolve the protracted conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. It has done so amid criticism that arms supplies increase the risk of fighting in the disputed region where despite sporadic skirmishes relative truce has held since 1994.
Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a defense pact of six former Soviet nations, and is, therefore, entitled to purchase Russian weapons at knock-down prices.
After talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in September, Pashinian said that Russia will continue to supply weapons to Armenia. “We agreed that supplies of Russian weapons will be continued routinely,” he told the Kommersant newspaper.
Russia provided Armenia with a fresh $100 million loan for buying more Russian weapons at discounted prices as recently as October 2017.
Meanwhile, Russia has also supplied an estimated $5 billion worth of various weapons to Azerbaijan in the last several years. Some of the deadly Russian weapons delivered to Baku were used by Azerbaijan’s military against ethnic Armenian forces during the brief hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016. This fact drew an angry reaction among Armenians as protests were held in front of the Russian embassy in Yerevan at that time.
Russia has insisted all along that while it supplies arms to Azerbaijan, it also maintains the military balance by delivering weapons to Armenia at discount prices.
Some analysts, however, have argued that Russian arms deliveries to Baku tilt the military balance in favor of Azerbaijan, making the prospect of an all-out war in Nagorno-Karabakh more likely.
Armen Rustamian, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), believes that Armenia today is behind Azerbaijan in its military buildup. “Aggressions and hostilities start when the balance is disturbed… And if in his statement Mr. Bolton meant that in order to maintain the balance Armenia should also have other types of weapons that restore this balance, then, of course, it can be welcomed, because it is very important for us that we have a balance in terms of the types of weapons and arsenal with Azerbaijan,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday.
Asked whether he thought the prospect of American arms supplies to Armenia would anger Russia, the ARF lawmaker said: “I think that Russia should understand a simple logic – mediators either do not supply weapons to either side or do it so as not to disturb the balance.”
Earlier this week, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots organization, said it will continue to press for strict enforcement of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that restricts U.S. aid – including military assistance – to Azerbaijan.
In a statement published on its Facebook page the ANCA, in particular, said: [U.S. national security advisor] Bolton expressed openness to U.S. arms sales to Armenia, which – almost certainly – would happen in the context of such sales to Azerbaijan. The danger here is that Azerbaijan, given the size of its military budget, can afford significantly more advanced U.S. arms than Armenia - leading to imbalances both on the battlefield and in terms of political relationships.”
Along with Russia and France, the United States co-heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which advances international efforts to help find a negotiated peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Negotiations conducted by Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders with the group’s mediation have failed to produce a lasting settlement of the conflict so far.