YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—In a stern rebuke to Moscow, President Serzh Sarkisian told Russia’s visiting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev late on Thursday that Azerbaijan used Russian weapons purchased in recent years during heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that broke out a week ago.
The two men discussed the unprecedented escalation and Russian efforts to defuse tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone when they met in Yerevan.
“Dmitry Anatolievich, I’m sure you know that the fact that the Azerbaijanis used in full weapons that they acquired in Russia recently has had a lot of resonance in Armenia,” Sarkisian said in his opening remarks at the meeting. “This is natural because the people of Armenia consider Russia to be our closest ally and friend.”
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian likewise told Medvedev earlier on Thursday that the Azerbaijani army used Russian-made T-90 tanks, TOS-1A flamethrowers and devastating Smerch rocket systems during the fighting. Baku bought these and other weapons as part of defense contracts with Moscow worth at least $4 billion. They were reportedly signed in 2009-2011, at a time when Medvedev served as Russia’s president.
Armenian critics of these deals argue that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is allied to Russia politically and militarily. They say that the Russian arms sales to Armenia’s arch-foe run counter to that alliance even considering the fact that Moscow has long been providing military assistance to Yerevan.
Medvedev did not react to Sarkisian’s complaint at the start of the talks. It is not clear whether Sarkisian demanded a halt to further arms deliveries to Baku after the talks continued behind the closed doors.
According to the TASS news agency, one of Medvedev’s deputies, Dmitry Rogozin, defended the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals when he spoke to reporters in Baku on Friday. He hinted that Moscow intends to complete arms deliveries envisaged by them.
Sarkisian also told Medvedev that Yerevan expects from Moscow “targeted statements and concrete actions” that would keep Baku from again ratcheting up tensions in the conflict zone. He warned that another “large-scale” Azerbaijani attack on Karabakh would result in a full-blown war.
Medvedev proceeded to Baku on Friday. Meeting with the Russian premier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that he had “no intentions to start large-scale hostilities” along the Karabakh “line of contact.” “We simply defended our positions and peaceful lives of our citizens,” Aliyev said.
Armenia Blasts Kazakhstan Over Summit Cancellation
Armenia has accused Kazakhstan of damaging the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with its refusal to attend a high-level meeting of the Russian-led bloc’s member states in Yerevan in an apparent show of support for Azerbaijan.
The prime ministers of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were scheduled to hold a regular session of the EEU’s “intergovernmental council” in the Armenian capital on Friday. The meeting was cancelled after Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Karim Masimov refused to attend it, proposing Moscow as an alternative venue.
Sarkisian raised the matter with Medvedev when they met in Yerevan late on Thursday. “I regret that some of our partners among Eurasian Economic Union member states have refused to come to Yerevan for participating in the pre-planned event,” Sarkisian told Medvedev.
“I don’t know just how much they have helped Azerbaijan with that move, but that they have undermined the reputation of our organization is beyond doubt,” he said.
The Kazakh government, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the EEU, has publicly given no reasons for its stance. Observers believe it wants to move the summit to avoid the impression that Kazakhstan, which has strong linguistic and cultural ties with Azerbaijan, supports Armenia in the Karabakh conflict.
Like other Muslim and Turkic Central Asian states, Kazakhstan has repeatedly signed up to pro-Azerbaijani multilateral declarations on the dispute.
Medvedev sought to downplay Kazakhstan’s stance. “In part, one can probably understand their behavior and decision because not everyone is so well informed about the current situation and about what could happen and what will happen,” he told the Armenian president.
Medvedev said that Moscow will strive to arrange an EEU prime ministerial meeting in Yerevan later this year. But it remained unclear whether the cancelled session will take place in the Russian capital next week.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin again phoned his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev on Friday to discuss what a Kremlin statement described as a “timetable of upcoming high-level meetings within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union.”
According to the statement, Putin also briefed Nazarbayev on the escalation of the Karabakh conflict and Russian efforts to restore the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire.