YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia will boost its military strength in the coming years with new and powerful weapons which many other countries do not have at their disposal, according to President Serzh Sarkisian.
Visiting Armenian army units deployed along the heavily fortified border with Azerbaijan on New Year’s Eve, Sarkisian also expressed confidence that a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war will not break out in 2014.
A short video released by the presidential press office through leading Armenian TV channels showed him inspecting the army’s border posts in northeastern Tavush province, talking to soldiers and officers serving there and handing awards to some of them.
“One or two more years, and you will be able to proudly say that the Armenian army possesses weapons which other states 20, 30 or 40 times our size do not possess,” Sarkisian said as he shared a meal with military personnel in a tent. He did not elaborate, saying only that “any powerful weapon derives its power from its soldiers and officers.”
It was thus not clear if the arms delivery promised by Sarkisian stems from a five-year plan to modernize the Armenian Armed Forces that was adopted by his administration in late 2010. The plan puts the emphasis on the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons.
The Armenian military is currently equipped with Scud-B and Tochka-U ballistic missiles that have firing ranges of 300 kilometers and 120 kilometers respectively. It also reportedly purchased in 2011 Chinese AR1A multiple-launch rocket systems with a firing range of up to 130 kilometers. The military makes no secret of its readiness to use such weapons against Azerbaijan’s oil and gas installations in case of a renewed war for Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Soviet-era Scud and Tochka missiles are less advanced than Iskander-M systems which Russia reportedly deployed at its military base in Armenia in 2013. Designated by NATO as SS-26 Stone, Iskander-M can strike targets more than 400 kilometers away and is regarded by military analysts as one of the most potent weapons of its kind in the world.
A Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.” Armenia relies heavily on this and other security arrangements with Russia in trying to offset oil-rich Azerbaijan’s massive military buildup.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed earlier this week that his country has “one of the strongest armies in the world.” “Our military might play a decisive role in a just resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict corresponding to international norms,” Aliyev said during a cabinet meeting in Baku, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
Sarkisian, for his part, sounded confident that Azerbaijan will not attempt to regain control over Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave in the months ahead. “Rest assured that there will be no hostilities in 2014 as well,” he told soldiers in Tavush. “I am sure about it.”
“But in order to prevent those hostilities you must stand firm,” added the Armenian leader. “As soon as the enemy feels that you don’t stand firm, problems would arise.”