Azeri Army Buildup Does Not Scare Armenia

The Azeri military parade on Sunday

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia said on Tuesday that it is undaunted by Azerbaijan’s ongoing military buildup and, in particular, the recent purchase of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles that were first put on display in Baku over the weekend.

First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan shrugged off Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s renewed threats to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force, questioning Baku’s readiness for another war. He also expressed confidence that the Armenian side will maintain the balance of forces with its oil-rich arch-foe through the acquisition of more weapons and a reform of its armed forces.

“I think those statements are mostly political because our neighbor is also aware of our real capabilities,” Tonoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in an interview. “Nevertheless, if Azerbaijan starts military hostilities out of self-deception, I don’t see a possibility of it achieving strategic or tactical successes.”

Azerbaijan on Sunday held its largest military parade since the fall of the Soviet Union, a show of force that came just two days after Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian failed to reach any agreements at a fresh meeting held in Russia. The parade involved thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks, artillery systems and other military hardware.

“I am completely sure that our territorial integrity will be resumed in any possible way,” Aliyev declared in a speech.

The most significant of new weapons paraded by the Azerbaijani military were S-300 air-defense systems widely regarded as one of the world’s most potent anti-aircraft weapons. Russia reportedly sold at least two batteries of these surface-to-air missiles to Baku last year in a deal estimated at $300 million.

News of that deal, which first emerged in July 2010, raised concerns in Armenia and Karabakh. Opposition groups there said it will seriously limit the Armenian military’s ability to hit strategic targets in Azerbaijan and will thus encourage Baku to attempt a military solution to the dispute.

Sarkisian and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, both of them former military leaders of Karabakh, dismissed those concerns. Ohanian claimed in particular that the Azerbaijani army “will need quite a lot of time” to learn to use S-300s and that his troops know how to neutralize them.

Tonoyan echoed these assurances, adding that the Armenian armed forces have more such missiles at their disposal. “We are more familiar with those systems,” he said. “We have been exploiting them for a fairly long time and know the possibilities of reducing their effectiveness.

“Unlike Azerbaijan, our systems cover the entire airspace of the likely theater of military hostilities and, in terms of their qualitative and quantitative characteristics, represent a much greater capability. Therefore, the existence of S-300 complexes should worry not Armenia but Azerbaijan, which is acting from the position of threats of military action.”

Armenia officially confirmed its possession of such systems in late December. Armenian state television showed at the time official footage of S-300 batteries test-firing missiles in an undisclosed location.

It remains unclear when and on what terms Russia transferred these weapons with a firing range of up to 300 kilometers to its main regional ally. They are only known to have been first delivered to the Russian military base in Armenia in the late 1990s.

“From the military standpoint, those systems do not threaten Armenia’s and Karabakh’s security for the simple reason that it’s an anti-aircraft defensive weapon, and neither Armenia, nor the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic plan to start a military campaign against Azerbaijan,” insisted Tonoyan. “Besides, they can only solve the issue of defending a part of Azerbaijan’s airspace.”

“At the same time, the acquisition of such systems and political speculation surrounding that issue show that our neighbor has switched from the acquisition of offensive weaponry to the acquisition of defensive weaponry. And that is also food for thought,” he added, referring to the Azerbaijani buildup financed from Baku’s massive oil revenues.

Aliyev on Sunday reaffirmed his government’s plans to boost military spending to $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.15 a year ago and just $160 million in 2003. By comparison, Armenia’s defense budget for 2011 is projected to reach only $400 million.

Armenia has sought to stay in the intensifying arms race with close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed last August commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Ohanian said in February that Armenia got hold of “unprecedented” quantities of modern weaponry in 2010 and will continue the buildup in line with a five-year rearmament plan approved by Sarkisian’s National Security Council last December. The plan envisages, among other things, the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons.

“Considerable work has been done in that direction, and it will continue at an even faster pace,” Tonoyan said. “Modern warfare also requires corresponding operational-tactical skills, and coordinated actions on communication, intelligence, and information technology. A lot of work is also being done in that direction as well. And the emphasis is being put on domestic manufacturing.”

In that context, Tonoyan stood by the Armenian Defense Ministry’s announcement earlier this month that it is manufacturing and supplying army units with unmanned military aircraft capable of flying deep into enemy territory.

Tonoyan also did not deny reports that the Armenian army is due to receive more Russian weapons as a result of an ongoing restructuring of the Russian base headquartered in Gyumri.

A senior Russian Defense Ministry official announced the transfer of this “excess weaponry” last week. He did not elaborate.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said afterwards that it will investigate the veracity of this information “through relevant sources.”

The commander-in-chief of Russia’s ground forces, Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov, twice visited Armenia and held talks with Ohanian and other top military officials in April. The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said the talks focused on a redeployment of the Russian troops stationed in the country.

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7 Comments

  1. ARA said:

    What about our subs in the Caspian? They better think harder but then again they will dry up

  2. Vartkes said:

    It is not about possessing weapons, it is about whether the Azeris can use them. I hope they are as ready as they were last time, the equipment they left behind were as good as new, ask any Armenian soldier. Let them try again, it has been a while, we need to upgarde our arsenal with newer weapons.

  3. Ara said:

    Let these “threats” be a THUNDERING declaration to the citizens and military personnel of Azerbaijan – your politicians care ZERO about you and your families!

    Peace = prosperity and growth.
    War = death, destruction and suffering.

    Which side is repeatedly threatening war???

  4. ARA said:

    Well- right-the azeri’s are nothing overall except they got turkey that gives them gravy and dog food-a culture old but ill with disease and sickness-sword bearers that share no respect for women overall- Yeah-wonder if they got new single shot rifles yet-bet it can not work for a marksman-except in luck- they are an ill people- Battle they want and battle they will get and lose bigger than ever-the subs will keep them contained too!

  5. bigmoustache said:

    we’ll be walking in the footsteps of serop, kevork, tro, njteh, antranig, sebouh, keri,….nothing beats that!

  6. Robert Klein said:

    The greatest concern for Armenia is that Azerbajian has plans to purchase the Merkava tank. Turkey may have already transferred the Leopard 2 in secret to Azerbajan. These two tanks would devastate the Armenian forces using the T-72 or T-80 tanks.Armenia needs to purchase new tanks that are both cost efficient and have composite armor that can be on more equal grounds with new Azeri tank purchases. Tanks such as the Indian Arjun ,The Chinese Type-99, the Brazilian EE-T1, and the Slovenian M-95 Degman or the Italian C-1 Ariete are all good choices and are less expensive than other composite armour tanks.The T-72 and T-80 have done very poorly in combat in Russian , Syrian and Iraqi hands.

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