MOSCOW (RFE/RL)—Russia will complete the ongoing delivery of about 100 T-90 tanks to Azerbaijan early next year and is ready to modernize older tanks used by the Azerbaijani army, according to a senior Russian defense industry official.
The Itar-Tass news agency on Friday quoted Esen Topoev, a top aide to the chief executive of Rosoboronexport, as saying that the Russian state arms exporter could also sell anti-ship missiles to Baku and open facilities in Azerbaijan for repairs and maintenance of Russian-made military hardware.
Azerbaijan began receiving the sophisticated T-90 tanks last year in accordance with Russian-Azerbaijani defense contracts signed in 2010-2012. In Topoev’s words, these shipments will be complete “in the beginning of 2015.”
Speaking during an international arms exhibition in Azerbaijan, Topoev said there are currently no Russian plans to sell more such hardware to Baku. Instead, he said, Rosoboronexport has offered to carry out a “profound modernization” of less advanced T-72 tanks belonging to the Azerbaijani armed forces. He did not specify whether the Azerbaijani side accepted the offer.
Russian and Azerbaijani officials have estimated the total volume of bilateral defense contracts signed since 2010 at nearly $4 billion. A Russian newspaper reported recently that the figure could rise to $5 billion by the end of this year.
These arms deals envisage the delivery of hundreds of Russian-made tanks, artillery and missile systems and combat helicopters to Azerbaijan. According to Topoev, the Azerbaijani military will receive all of these weapons by the end of 2017.
Aleksandr Fomin, the head of a Russian government agency overseeing arms exports, and Anatoly Isaykin, Rosoboronexport’s chief executive, reportedly discussed with Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov the possibility of more such deals when they visited Baku in June. Hasanov’s press office cited the Russian officials as noting “big prospects” for stepping up bilateral military-technical cooperation.
The Azerbaijani news agency APA reported in July that Moscow has agreed to supply an unspecified number of Yak-130 trainer and light attack jets to Baku. In a separate report, it quoted a Russian defense industry official as saying that the two states have also opened negotiations on the possible sale of Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters.
Topoev told Itar-Tass that during the exhibition he personally showed Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev one such helicopter put on display. “[Aliyev] expressed satisfaction and gave his subordinates instructions on further work on the issue of Alligator,” said the Rosoboronexport representative.
As part of the 2010 arms package, Azerbaijan has already received 24 Russian helicopter gunships of different type: Mi-35M. They are essentially an upgraded version of Soviet Mi-24 choppers designed in the late 1960s.
Topoev further revealed that Azerbaijan, highlighting its heavy reliance on Russian military hardware, asked Rosoboronexport to open “centers for repair and maintenance of helicopters and armored vehicles” on its territory. The Russian company is ready, in principle, to accept the proposal, he said.
The Russian-Azerbaijani military cooperation is causing growing concern in Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally locked in a bitter conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian pundits and some opposition politicians increasingly accuse Moscow of acting against the letter and spirit of Russian-Armenian defense agreements.
“It is a very painful subject and our people are worried that our strategic ally sells weapons to Azerbaijan,” President Serzh Sarkisian said in a newspaper interview in July. He at the same time expressed confidence that Russia “will honor its commitments to us in times of adversity.”
Armenia itself has received large quantities of Russian weapons at knockdown prices or free of charge. It also hosts a Russian military base on its territory.