Armenia Downplays Russian Missile Sale To Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian played down on Wednesday the significance of a possible sale of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan, saying that it will not give Baku a “strategic advantage” in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Ohanian also asserted that as a result of a new defense agreement signed by Moscow and Yerevan last week, Russian troops could openly back Armenia in the event of renewed Armenian-Azerbaijani war. 

“In case a threat unleashed against Nagorno-Karabakh [by Azerbaijan] becomes a threat to the Republic of Armenia, then I have no doubts that the Russian Federation will fulfill its contractual and allied obligations,” he said.

The agreement in question extended Russia’s lease on a military base in Armenia until 2044 and gave it a greater role in ensuring the South Caucasus nation’s security. It also commits the Russians to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry. Pro-government politicians and some analysts in Yerevan believe that this will discourage Azerbaijan from acting on its regular threats to forcefully take Karabakh and other Armenian-liberated territories surrounding the republic.

“The agreement reaffirms the long-term character of the strategic alliance of the Republic of Armenia and the Russian Federation in accordance with requirements stemming from the security environment and the military-political situation in the region,” said Ohanian.

The deal was signed on August 20 during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan following reports that Moscow plans to sell S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan. The reports, not denied by Russian officials, have raised concerns in Armenia and Karabakh.

Armenian opposition groups say the long-range surface-to-air missiles would seriously limit the Armenian military’s ability to hit strategic targets in Azerbaijan and thereby encourage Baku to try to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force.

Ohanian, who played a major role in the 1991-1994 independence war with Azerbaijan and subsequently commanded the Karabakh Defense army, dismissed such concerns. “I must point out that the acquisition of Russian S-300 air-defense systems can not directly influence the correlation of forces between Armenia and Azerbaijan because their use by Azerbaijan against the Armenian Armed Forces would be fruitless under all possible scenarios,” he said. “The reason for that is simple: we are very familiar with those systems, we have been using them for quite a long time, and we know the possibilities of reducing the effectiveness of such systems.”

The minister seemed to refer to at least two batteries of S-300s that were deployed by Russia at its military base in Armenia in the late 1990s. Top Russian military officials announced in early 2007 that Moscow has further upgraded Armenia’s air defenses and trained Armenian military personnel to operate the air-defense systems. The Armenian military confirmed that, saying the training process began in 2005.

“I must also point out that even in case of the acquisition of those systems, Azerbaijan will need quite a lot of time to develop an integrated radio-technical system catering to them. So I don’t think that the purchase of S-300 systems would give Azerbaijan any strategic advantage over the Republic of Armenia,” said Ohanian.

He added that the missile deal would therefore not harm the Russian-Armenian military alliance. “We are strategic partners, we are part of the same military-political system, our cooperation is quite close, and there is readiness on both sides for mutual assistance on any security issue,” he said.

Ohanian also insisted that the Armenian leadership is taking “adequate” steps to sustain the balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict zone. It is countering Azerbaijan’s ongoing massive military build-up not only by acquiring more weapons but also training the Armenian army and entering “new alliances,” he said.

Ohanian would not be drawn on what kind of sophisticated arms Moscow has pledged to supply to Yerevan within the framework of the new Russian-Armenian pact. “For reasons understandable to all of us, this direction contains a certain degree of military secrecy,” he told RFE/RL. “But the promises and provisions contained in the agreement are valid and will be put into practice.”

The defense minister further reaffirmed his government’s plans, announced earlier this month, to obtain new long-range precision-guided weapons in the coming years. They would be aimed at “strategic facilities” of Armenia’s hostile neighbors, he said without elaborating.

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10 Comments

  1. Norin Radd said:

    “Pride cometh before the fall”, while Armenians in Armenia and Arstakh are more than capable to protect and advance into Azeri territories; all of this “Russians will do this, and Russians will do that for us” should be taken with a very big grain of salt. Perhaps the Russians will help but Armenians need to also be ready and able to do things themselves if the need arises instead of developing a lulled reliance on Russia. Allies are great to have and Russia can be a strong one, but to what extent is this true? How far are the regional “big brothers” willing to get involved should the need arise?

    • john said:

      What gives you the idea, should the need arise, that Armenia cannot defend itself? majority of what one hears in the “news” is simply nonsense.

    • phillip said:

      If I were there, I would have plans for betrayal by all, pray you dont need these plans, but have a plan
      should Russia or anyone else should happen to disapoint you or worse. The days are evil and getting worse everyday

  2. vahe said:

    @norin radd, First and foremost, your right karabakh army is capable of handling azeris-if it gets out of control armenia gets involved which means russia gets involved. Russia will never allow turkey and azerbaijan to join. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Iran will never want to see turkey and azerbaijan join, as Iran is well aware that azerbaijan was invented and named that (after the iranian provinces just to the south) in 1918 for the sole purpose of taking iranian lands. So, that’s 2 major powers in the region and the most important and they will always work together for one goal, to never allow the beginnings of the turkish disgusting pan-turkic plans. So, the armenian wedge placed in the middle of azerbaijan and turkey is very important for not only russia, but iran and to a lesser extent, eu and usa.

  3. Sevdaa said:

    ‎”…….In case a threat unleashed against Nagorno-Karabakh [by Azerbaijan] becomes a threat to the Republic of Armenia, then I have no doubts that the Russian Federation will fulfill its contractual and allied obligations…..”

    Its like li…itle kid is hiding behind his uncle and indicating how strong his uncle is

  4. Cristina said:

    How far? Just as far as their interests serve it. They don’t call Russia ‘the big bear’ for nothing…

  5. ISHKHAN said:

    DEAR MR. OHANIAN I AM A VERY NAIVE ARMENIAN. YOU DON’T THINK RUSSIAN CAME TO YEREVAN AND DECEIVED US?? OR ILAJ YOKHTER KHARASHO…

  6. ALAHAIDOYAN, Bedros said:

    Hayres g’ser: “Eshe meg ankam g’iyna; yergrort ankam nouyn deghen chantznir”. Ing Hayasdani hanra-bedootyoone “DZOVE INGADZ E YEV, DJARAHAD, OTZIN AL GE PATTVI”; ayt khntoomeres otze mer vra khntatzogh Russian e’ – badmootyoone vga (Ararate, Gars ou Ardahan inchbes gorsntzootzink?…). Kheghj Ohanian, lav kidtzir, MENK PAREGAM CHOONINK. Hima gisad anklerenovs verchatznem khosks: Our tiny & poor Armenian Republic has a so great need of help that he is taking granted that Russia,equivocal or bifacial, will be there when needed. IT IS A LURE. The History is there TO PROVE IT. Yerani te’ skhalim!! – Turkey & Azeristan are secretly planning to destroy Armenia. Then, with all turkish speaking nations will unite to destroy Russia itself – anshooshd yes chem desner voch al torniges. B.A.

  7. Arn.SWEDEN. said:

    “In case a threat unleashed against Nagorno-Karabakh [by Azerbaijan] becomes a threat to the Republic of Armenia, then I have no doubts that the Russian Federation will fulfill its contractual and allied obligations,” he said.

    SURE THING BUT –

    IF AZERBADJAN SAYS OPENLY THEY WILL NOT TREATH ARMENIA ITSELF BUT,
    ONLY TAKE ARSTAKH/NAGORNO-KARABAK,
    WHAT WILL RUSSIA THEN DO ???.

    FURTHER –

    THE BEST DEFENCE IS AN OFFENCE,
    AND,
    ACTION ALWAYS BEAT REACTION.

    WILL THE ARMENIANS ONLY SIT IDLE AS SITTING DUCKS,
    AND,
    IN CASE OF AN AZERBADJANI ATTACK ,
    ONLY PROTECT THEMSELVES ON ARMENIAN TERITORRY
    AND NOT GO TO THE OFFENCIVE INTO AXERBADJANI TERITORRY,
    NOT EVEN USE AIRFORCE,
    ARMENIAN OR RUSSIAN IN SUCH AN DEFENCE/OFFENCIVE ???.

    HMMM – ???

    SURELY THERE IS MORE BEHIND WHAT THE DF SAYS –

    Ohanian would not be drawn on what kind of sophisticated arms Moscow has pledged to supply to Yerevan within the framework of the new Russian-Armenian pact. “For reasons understandable to all of us, this direction contains a certain degree of military secrecy,”

    BUT WILL AZERBADJAN ACT AS PREDICTED ???,
    AND SURELY TURKEY WILL INTERVIENE WITH THE US AND NATO ON ITS SIDE.

    AS FAR AS I UNDERSTAND THE RUSSIAN STRATEGIC INTERESSTS,
    NORIN RADD ABOVE NEED NOT WORRY EVEN IF HIS COMMENT IS VERY TRUE AS SUCH.

    Arn.Sweden.

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