Azeris Alarmed Over Alleged Arms Sales to Armenia

BAKU (Reuter)–Azerbaijan rang alarm bells on Friday about massive Russian arms supplies to Armenia–but Azeri leaders stressed that the affair should not harm relations between Baku and Moscow.

The chairman of the Azeri parliament–Murtuz Aleskerov–said Moscow’s arms shipmen’s to Armenia–which according to a senior Russian politician totaled $1 billion in 1993-1996–could destabilize the volatile Transcaucasus region.

"If these arms are not returned this could lead to a new large-scale war in the region," he said at parliamentary hearings.

Russian media reported last month that dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers had been flown to Armenia.

Interfax news agency said Friday that the head of defense committee in Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament)–Lev Rokhlin–told closed hearings earlier this week that actual supplies of Russian arms to Armenia had been much bigger.

Rokhlin has said that the shipmen’s also included dozens of missile-launchers–hundreds of anti-aircraft rockets and a large amount of ammunition.

Rokhlin also said that the arms were handed over to the Armenia’s illegally–bypassing parliament.

Azeri President Gaidar Aliyev summoned top officials on Friday to discuss the incident. His press office said he had sent a message to Yeltsin urging the Kremlin leader to have the arms sent back to Russia. The Azeri ambassador in Russia–Ramiz Rizayev–told a news conference in Moscow that the Kremlin had promised to investigate the incident.

"I believe that President (Boris) Yeltsin and Prime Minister (Viktor) Chernomyrdin knew nothing about this," Rizayev said.

He said that the Russian leaders had promised their cooperation in investigating the scandal.

"Even before the latest revelations we raised this issue with Moscow during the Commonwealth meeting," Rizvayev said in reference to last month’s summit meeting. "I was there at talks between Aliyev and Chernomyrdin," he said. "Chernomyrdin promised to investigate the whole thing and report by the next Commonwealth summit in the summer."

Rizayev said that the scandal over the arms shipmen’s had erupted at a time when uneasy relations between Moscow and Baku had started improving following Yeltsin’s replacement of his hawkish Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and pro-Western Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev last year.

Baku was satisfied with Russia’s latest mediation efforts in its talks with Armenia and Karabakh separatists–he said.

Rizayev also said that the new–"more realistic" stance taken by current Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov gave hope of sorting out another painful issue in bilateral relations–a dispute about jurisdiction over the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

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