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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Azerbaijan and Armenia Stockpile New Weapons

Published in Field Reports

By Bakhtiyar Aslanov (the 30/10/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Since the 1994 cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, negotiations between the parties have been overseen by the OSCE Minsk Group without any particular success towards peaceful solution. After the deadlock in peace negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2011, Azerbaijan and Armenia both accelerated their stockpiling of arms and intensified their public rhetoric of preparing for a new war.

On February 26,2012, Israeli officials confirmed that Israel Aerospace Industries and Azerbaijan signed a deal in September 2011 to sell 60 drones, missile defense systems and antiaircraft systems to Azerbaijan at a value of US$ 1.6 billion. According to The Economist, Azerbaijan increased its defense budget by US$ 3.7 billion in 2013 as oil revenues increased.

According to a report by APA, Azerbaijan’s state budget is 6.4 percent higher in 2014 than in 2013, and its defense budget will be increased by 48 million AZN (US$ 61 million). It is argued that Azerbaijan's military budget exceeds Armenia's entire state budget by US$ 1 billion. In June 2013, the delivery of US$ 1 billion worth of weapons fulfilled the last part of a deal worth a total of US$ 3-4 billion between Russia and Azerbaijan. Additionally, Azerbaijani officials noted that Baku procured another US$ 3 billion worth of weapons and arms, including naval vessels and submarines from South Korea.

The same year, Armenia increased its defense budget by 25 percent to US$ 450 million. Russia provided significant discounts in its arms sales to Armenia, while the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows Russia to control several sophisticated systems in the country. Officials in Yerevan claim that weapons are procured to prevent an unexpected attack from Azerbaijan. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan emphasized during his visit to a unit in Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2013, “over the past three years, we have acquired as many weapons as we did in the previous twenty.” Qraparak newspaper reported on September 25, 2013, that Armenia has signed a contract with Moscow to buy military equipment, weapons and ammunition at low prices in Russia.

Commenting on Moscow’s plans to increase its military presence in the Gyumri base in Armenia, the press secretary of Armenia's Ministry of Defense, Artsrun Hovhanisyan, claimed on September 23, 2013, that the Russian soldiers arriving in Armenia and their family members will amount to approximately 2,500-3,000 people.

In a comment to Armenian News about Baku's request to buy 18 self-propelled artillery units from Russia, Russian political scientist Alexander Khramchikhin argued that “Azerbaijan is acquiring arms of every type so as to take back Nagorno-Karabakh. This country does not pursue any other objective.” Sergey Minasyan, the Deputy Director of Caucasus Institute, stated that Armenia’s membership in the Customs Union “will further help reduce the likelihood of hostilities by Azerbaijan.” He added that Moscow would take on an increased responsibility for guaranteeing the security of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in case of any unexpected circumstance.

At the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian emphasized that Baku’s stockpiling of offensive weapons threatens regional as well as international security. In his speech, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov responded that Armenia's invasive policy “has no chance for success.” He added that Nagorno-Karabakh has been, is and will be an integral territory of Azerbaijan.

Armenia's and Azerbaijan's increase of militaristic rhetoric and revelations of weapons procurements to the media in recent years are part of a tendency on both sides to demonstrate strength and convince opposite side that they are ready for war, since negotiations will not have successful results. While renewing its military arsenal, Azerbaijan also seeks to attract the attention of the mediators and other powerful actors to the conflict in order to accelerate the negotiation process and force Armenia to possible concessions. Conversely, Armenia seeks to maintain the status quo and guarantee its security through assistance and support from Moscow. Simultaneously, both sides maintain in diplomatic rhetoric that they seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. 

Officials in Moscow argue that Russia guarantees security in the region and preserves the military balance by providing both sides with weaponry. Through its military partnership with Armenia and its close relations in different spheres with Azerbaijan, Russia seeks to satisfy Baku and Yerevan simultaneously by selling them large amounts of military equipment, while it is securing its position as the key mediator in the conflict and thereby increasing its geopolitical clout in the South Caucasus. 

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