Armenia to Boost Defense Spending in 2003

YEREVAN (REF/RL)–The Armenian government plans to increase its defense spending by approximately 20 percent to 46 billion drams ($80 million) next year–officials said on Wednesday after further discussions in parliament on the proposed 2003 budget.

The military is thus expected to continue to receive the single biggest share of government expenditures–a move reflecting Armenia’s unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabagh.

Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian–who attended the discussions–said the requested sum would allow his agency to maintain and reinforce the combat-readiness of Armenian armed forces. He also admitted that the budgetary funds are not the only source of support for the military.

"Of course–it is our main source of money," he told reporters. "But there are other ways and means of [supporting the military]. We have partners and friends with whom we are bound with agreemen’s."

Sarkisian declined to specify concrete sources of the extra-budgetary military funding–saying only that close cooperation with Russia remains a crucial component of Armenia’s defense and security policies. He said two more Russian-Armenian defense agreemen’s were signed during Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s visit to Yerevan last week.

Presenting the draft budget to lawmakers on Monday–Prime Minister Antranig Markarian revealed that an unspecified part of defense expenditures has until now been disbursed from the government’s "reserve fund" set aside in its annual budget. He said the government will no longer use the fund for financing the military.

Armenia’s arch-rival Azerbaijan–who increasingly threatens to win back Karabagh by force–also intends to boost defense spending next year. Baku’s military budget is expected to reach $140 million.

Sarkisian claimed that despite possessing greater human and financial resources–Azerbaijan will never gain military superiority over Armenia.

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