BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
This is the surprising story of Azerbaijan, a country that buys weapons from others for its own needs, selling tens of millions of dollars of weapons to a Central African country.
The article, titled “Congo-Brazzaville Strongman Buys Secret Weapons Haul from Azerbaijan,” was published by OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) on February 22, 2021. It was written by Khadija Sharife and Mark Anderson. Congo-Brazzaville is another name for the Republic of Congo.
Here is the OCCRP’s summary of the key findings of the article:
“Since 2015, Congo-Brazzaville has bought a huge weapons stockpile from Azerbaijan, with over 500 tons of weapons delivered to the country in multiple shipments.
In January 2020, more than 100 tons of weaponry was sent from Azerbaijan to Congo-Brazzaville’s Republican Guard, including 775 mortar shells and over 400 cases of rockets designed to be launched out of trucks.
Opposition figures claim that previous shipments of weapons from Azerbaijan were used to fuel a brutal post-election offensive in 2016 that led to a humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia was listed as a ‘sponsoring party’ in at least two arms consignments sent in 2016 and 2017, around the same time Congo-Brazzaville’s admittance to OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] was being negotiated.”
According to OCCRP, “in January 2020, at the Turkish port of Derince on the eastern shores of the Sea of Marmara, a huge cache of weapons was loaded onto the MV Storm. Registered in the tax haven of Vanuatu, the ship set sail with an arsenal of mortar shells, multiple launch rockets, and explosives, en route from Azerbaijan to the Republic of the Congo, better known as Congo-Brazzaville.”
The above summary raises several serious questions: Why was Azerbaijan shipping weapons to the Republic of Congo, when Baku itself needed weapons? Is it Azerbaijan or Turkey the real source of the weapons shipped to Congo? Why did Saudi Arabia sponsor two of the weapon shipments in 2016 and 2017, meaning that the Saudi government paid for the weapons? Why were the dictators of Azerbaijan and Turkey trying to support President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the dictator of the Republic of Congo, who has been in power ever since 1997? What did Azerbaijan or Turkey get in return for the arms shipments?
In January 2020, over 100 tons of weapons worth tens of millions of dollars were shipped by Azerbaijan to the headquarters of Congo’s elite Republican Guard. This was the latest of at least 17 such shipments since 2015. In total, over 500 tons of weapons, including hand grenades, mortar systems, and millions of bullets were sent by Azerbaijan to Congo, according to OCCRP.
Opposition forces have claimed that these weapons are to be used by the President of Congo to maintain his rule by force in the March 21 presidential election. He recently had the constitution changed so he could be president for life!
How can a financially bankrupt country like Congo afford to buy such a large quantity of weapons? By funding two of the weapons shipments, Saudi Arabia wanted to extend its political influence over Congo.
The most recent shipment of weapons from Azerbaijan to Congo on January 2020 included 775 mortar shells and over 400 cases of rockets. They were transported from Baku to Turkey by a Bulgarian company and then loaded onto the ship MV Storm at Derince, a port managed by the Turkish government. An inside source confirmed that Congo bought the weapons at discount prices.
The Congolese government used the weapons from Azerbaijan against the opposition in a scorched earth strategy, according to the leader of a political party in Congo. Given the regime’s brutal human rights record, no European country would sell weapons to Congo. In the 2016 presidential election, the United States criticized the government of Congo for “widespread irregularities and the arrests of opposition supporters.” The presidential election this month is expected to be just as corrupt as the previous ones. “The government is carrying out a pre-election campaign of intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detention against its political opponents,” said a representative of Amnesty International.
The OCCRP reported that “the first shipments of arms arrived in Brazzaville on Azerbaijani Air Force planes, but starting in 2017 a private [Azeri] carrier, Silk Way Airlines, began flying the weapons instead. …Silk Way is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven, and was previously linked to the Aliyev family. As well as previously winning lucrative contracts with the U.S. government to move ammunition and other non-lethal materials, Silk Way was found, in leaked correspondence reported by Bulgarian newspaper Trud, to have used flights with diplomatic clearance to secretly move hundreds of tons of weapons around the world, including to global conflict zones, between 2014 and 2017.”
The opposition in Congo is concerned that the weapons from Azerbaijan will increase the prospect of violence around the elections. “We are worried that the weapons that Sassou-Nguesso’s regime bought from Azerbaijan could be used to crack down on the opposition during the upcoming election,” said an opposition leader.
The United Nations should launch an investigation into these secret weapons sales from Azerbaijan to the dictator of Congo to oppress the human rights of the local population and rig the presidential election once again!