YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A nearly 20 percent increase in Armenia’s military spending next year is a response to the drastic rise in similar expenditures in neighboring Azerbaijan–officials in Yerevan said following Tuesday’s closed meeting of parliamentary commissions.
National Assembly Standing Defense–Internal Affairs and National Security Commission Chairman Mher Shahgeldian confirmed plans to increase next year’s military budget to $150 million.
Saying that the move was planned considering Azerbaijan’s drastic increase in military spending–the lawmaker added: "We should pay attention to this correlation. Our task in this case is to preserve our qualitative level to ensure the country’s defense capability and security."
Minister of Defense Serge Sarkisian said the sum is sufficient to ensure the country’s defense.
"This amount of spending is the minimum to ensure a due level of our army’s combat efficiency," he told the media. "For the first time the defense budget has been made not proceeding from the absolute sum of previous years–but from the percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP)–that is–there is an agreement that at least 3 percent of our GDP should be spent for defense purposes."
Meanwhile–Azerbaijan plans to double its military spending in 2006 increasing it to $650 million.
During the press conference–Sarkisian also spoke about the possible outcome of upcoming elections in Azerbaijan and how they could influence the Karabagh peace process.
"It is natural that if the opposition suddenly wins perhaps the negotiating process would have to begin from scratch–and if the authorities win–I think the negotiating process will be continued," the minister said.
Regarding his trip to Washington slated for late October–Sarkisian said it was a routine visit–and not one to intensify military cooperation with the US–at the expense of Armenian-Russian relations. "We wish to be friends with both sides," the minister said.
Talking about the upcoming referendum on constitutional amendmen’s–Sarkisian said: "I don’t want this referendum to be compared to a football match. I think that in case of proper work–a sufficient number of voters will turn out and will say ‘yes’ to the constitutional amendmen’s."