YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Faced with continuing protests from Azerbaijan, Russia on Friday again denied Azerbaijani media claims that it supplied large quantities of military hardware and other weapons to Armenia last year.
“The person whose name was mentioned by mass media did not sign any documen’s, and no deliveries were carried out,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisted at a news conference on Friday. Russian news agencies quoted him as saying that he will reiterate these assurances during his upcoming visit to Baku.
Lavrov noted at the same time that as a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Armenia is entitled to receiving Russian weapons at cut-down prices. “Armenia is a member of the CSTO and enjoys more privileged terms,” he said. “Our Azerbaijani colleagues are aware of that and have no questions.”
On Thursday the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry expressed “strong protest in connection with the transfer of arms to Armenia” and called “on Russia to take all necessary steps to avert the consequences.”
On Wednesday Russia’s defense ministry denied Azerbaijani media reports that Moscow had supplied Yerevan with $800 million worth of tanks, armored personnel carriers, rockets, grenade launchers and ammunition via a Russian army base in Armenia, Interfax news agency reported.
"There have been no supplies of Russian weapons to Armenia. The reports alleging this are untrue," Russian defense ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said.
Azerbaijan said the alleged weapons transfers violated UN resolutions aimed at preventing a renewal of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, where Armenia-backed separatists wrested control from Azerbaijan’s authorities in a war after the 1991 Soviet collapse.
"The transfer of weapons serves to strengthen the military potential of Armenia, which has occupied a part of Azerbaijani territory," the Azerbaijani ministry said.
The Armenian Defense Ministry denied the Azerbaijani reports earlier this week. “Armenia is a member of the [Russian-led] Collective Treaty Organization (CSTO) and we have military contacts with Russia,” a ministry spokesman, Seyran Shahsuvarian, told journalists. “But I don’t remember any [weapons] acquisitions in recent years.”
“The reports are absolutely false,” he said.
Membership in the CSTO entitles Armenia to receiving Russian weapons at cut-down prices or even free of charge.
An Azerbaijani news website, Mediaforum.az, published late last week scanned copies of what it called a document certifying the transfer of the weapons that belonged to Russian troops stationed in Armenia.
The document, signed by a deputy commander of Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, contained a long list of armamen’s allegedly handed over to the Armenian military. Those included 21 battle tanks, 50 armored vehicles, about 40 artillery systems and more than 4,000 automatic rifles along with large quantities of ammunition.
The Azerbaijani government was quick to express concern at the report, demanding an official explanation from Moscow. The Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Vasily Istratov, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Baku.
An Azeri Parliamentarian Thursday said Azerbaijan’s Parliament would demand a “well-grounded explanation” from Russia regarding its alleged armament supply to Armenia. The Azeri Parliament will debate the issue at the beginning of its Spring session on February 1, Aydin Mirzazade, the Deputy Chairman of the Standing Parliamentary Commission on Security and Defense, was quoted by Trend News Agency as saying on Thursday. He added that a statement directed at the Russian Parliament may be adopted as a result of those discussions.
Using its soaring oil revenues, Azerbaijan embarked in the early 2000s on a military build-up which its leaders hope will eventually force the Armenia’s to give up control over Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding lands. Its defense spending has skyrocketed since then and is projected to pass the $2 billion mark this year. In his New Year’s address to the nation, President Ilham Aliyev urged Azerbaijanis to be prepared for renewed war “at any moment.”
By comparison, Armenia’s defense budget for 2009 is projected at about $500 million.