BAKU (RFE/RL)–In a move that threatens to ignite a new war in the volatile South Caucasus, Azerbaijan has announced plans for another drastic increase in defense spending, which has already skyrocketed over the past decade.
The Azerbaijani government’s defense budget for next year, submitted to parliament on Tuesday, calls for $3.1 billion in expenditures. News reports from Baku quoted Azerbaijani Finance Minister Samir Sharifov as saying that this represents an almost 90 percent rise from this year’s spending level.
“Defense spending in 2011 will account for 19.7 percent compared with 10.7 percent in 2010, so the share of defense spending in the budget will almost double,” Sharifov said, according to AFP news agency.
This contradicted Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s statements on the subject made earlier this year. Addressing Azerbaijani troops in June, Aliyev said that Baku’s military spending will total $2.15 billion this year.
“A goal was set forth several years ago for Azerbaijan’s military expenses to be above all of Armenia’s spending,” he said. “This goal has already been fulfilled.”
Armenia’s state budget for 2010 is projected at $2.6 billion. The Armenian government plans to spend a total of $2.8 billion next year. About $400 million of the sum is to be allocated to the Armenian military.
The Azerbaijani defense budget was supposed to have passed the $2 billion mark in 2008. Aliyev publicly ordered his government to ensure that in April 2008.
Over the past decade, Azerbaijan has boosted defense spending at least tenfold as part of a military build-up financed from the country’s soaring oil and gas revenues. Baku hopes that it will eventually force the Armenians to make serious concessions in the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliyev regularly threatens to win back Karabakh and the liberated districts surrounding it by force. According to his finance minister, about $1.4 billion of the planned 2011 spending will be used to modernize the Azerbaijani military through the purchase of up-to-date equipment and weaponry.
Armenian leaders have downplayed the widening gap between the defense budgets of the two South Caucasus arch-foes. “We counter this with the quality and combat-readiness of our armed forces,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told journalists last week.
Armenia is also capitalizing on its military alliance with Russia, which enables it to acquire Russian-made weapons at cut-down prices or free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August commits Moscow to supplying Yerevan with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.”