Weapons of War: Expert says military buildup in Armenia, Azerbaijan challenges peace prospects

The more weapons are stocked by the sides to enhance their positions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the more of a challenge it will present to the possibility of signing a peace agreement in the near future, a military expert says.

“Obviously, the militarization of the region will not contribute to a sustainable and lasting peace in the region,” Tigran Abrahamyan told ArmeniaNow, commenting on possible new weapons purchases by Armenia with the latest $200 million loan extended by Russia. Though, Abrahamyan acknowledges, the new deliveries will indeed strengthen Armenian positions on the ground as Azerbaijan continues to upgrade and increase its arsenal.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry will spend the loan money on buying, among other things, “long-range” Russian-made weapons, a spokesman said this week.

“With that sum we will acquire new military hardware, including both offensive and defensive weapons, as well as new equipment as part of our program of a large-scale modernization of the army,” Artsrun Hovhannisyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service without elaborating on types of weapons.

A Russian-Armenian agreement on the loan disbursement repayable in 13 years was signed on June 26 and was ratified by Armenia’s parliament on July 2. The ratification coincided with a report by Russia’s official TASS news agency saying that Moscow and Yerevan are now negotiating on the delivery of advanced Iskander-M missiles to the Armenian army that would significantly boost Armenian defense capabilities.

With a firing range of around 500 kilometers, the Iskander-M systems are one of the most potent weapons of their kind that could have important implications for the military balance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In particular, they would make Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas infrastructure even more vulnerable to Armenian missile strikes in the event of a renewed war for Nagorno-Karabakh.

If the news on the purchase is true, then enhancing Armenian Armed Forces with Iskander-M systems will significantly raise Armenian security in terms of the military component, expert Abrahamyan commented.

“At this point I will not further comment on it because the purchase has not yet been officially confirmed. Yet, it is clear that Armenia will use $200 million to buy long-range weaponry which will bring it to a new level of capabilities,” the expert added.

Yet, Abrahamyan believes an arms race is no good way to help the peace-building process.

“The military spending and the purpose and scales of it have a great impact on the negotiation process. Unfortunately, it was Azerbaijan that provoked the arms race, which has a negative impact on the peace process,” he concluded.

Azerbaijan has increased its annual military spending by almost 30 times during President Ilham Aliyev’s more than decade-long rule. It is projected to total $3.6 billion this year, more than Armenia’s entire state budget. By comparison, Armenia’s 2015 defense budget will be equivalent to only about $500 million.

Some pundits, meanwhile, do not exclude that Russia may step up arms deliveries to Azerbaijan after providing Armenia with the loan and supposedly restoring the “parity” between the conflicting sites. Moscow already shipped weapons, including some offensive types, to Baku worth up to $4 billion in the past several years.