YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia plans to acquire long-range precision-guided weapons and will be ready to use them in possible armed conflicts with hostile neighbors, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said on Tuesday.
The announcement followed a meeting of an Armenian government commission on national security that tentatively approved two programs foreseeing a modernization of the country’s Armed Forces. One of the documents deals with army weaponry, while the other details measures to develop the domestic defense industry.
“These are extremely important programs,” Ohanian told journalists. “Their implementation will qualitatively improve the level of the Armed Forces in the short and medium terms.”
“The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry,” he said. “The main directions are the expansion of our long-range strike capacity and the introduction of extremely precise systems, which will allow us to minimize the enemy’s civilian casualties during conflicts.”
“Their application will also allow us to thwart free enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities,” added the minister. He did not specify whether Yerevan will seek to have surface-to-surface missiles capable of hitting any target in Azerbaijan.
The Armenian military is believed to be already equipped with short-range tactical missiles. But little is known about their type and technical characteristics. The army command gave a rare glimpse of such weaponry in September 2006 when it demonstrated new rockets with a firing range of up to 110 kilometers during a military parade in Yerevan.
Ohanian did not deny that the modernization plan is connected with the persisting risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. “You know what kind of a region we live in and how dependent we are during the escalation of conflicts,” he said. “We are therefore forced to do such work.”
It was not immediately clear whether Yerevan’s desire to get hold of more powerful weapons is connected with a new Russian-Armenian military agreement expected to be signed soon. The agreement will reportedly take the form of significant changes to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia.
Official Russian and Armenian sources have said that those changes would extend that presence and assign the base a greater role in ensuring Armenia’s security. A relevant Russian government document cited by the Interfax news agency late last month also makes clear that Moscow will commit itself to providing its South Caucasus ally with “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”
Artur Baghdasarian, the secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council who chaired Tuesday’s meeting together with Ohanian, confirmed this last week. “There exist joint projects on this matter and we will be consistently implementing them,” he told the Regnum news agency.
Earlier in July, Armenia and Russia announced plans to significantly step up cooperation between their defense industries after talks between their top security officials were held in Yerevan. Baghdasarian reiterated on Tuesday that the agreements reached during the “extremely important” talks envisage, among other things, the establishment of Russian-Armenian defense joint ventures.
That was followed by Russian media reports that Moscow has agreed to sell sophisticated S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan in a $300 million deal that could affect the balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict. Russian defense officials have made conflicting statements about the veracity of the information, adding to concerns expressed by Armenian pundits and politicians.
Ohanian on Tuesday commented evasively on the possible S-300 sale. “I think that acquisition of any new weaponry will have a certain impact on the balance of forces [in the Karabakh conflict,] but want to remind that the S-300 systems are defensive systems,” he said. “At the same time, we can’t say we have information about their possible purchase [by Azerbaijan.]”