BAKU (Combined Sources)–Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry on Thursday rejected a claim by Armenia’s Defense Minister that a recently signed military agreement between Armenia and Russia could commit the Kremlin to supporting Yerevan in case of renewed war over Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported on Friday.
Armenia and Russia signed a defense deal on August 20 extending the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia until 2044. The deal amended an existing bilateral treaty signed in 1995 that regulated the presence of the Russian military base in Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. The amended agreements also commit Moscow to upgrading the mission of its 3,000 troops stationed in Gyumri, as well as providing Armenia with modern military equipment.
According to the Associated Press, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said after his talks with visiting Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, that the military pact also committed Russia to protecting Armenia’s security.
In an interview with RFE/RL shortly after, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian reiterated Sarkisian’s remarks, adding that under the Russo-Armenian pact, Moscow would come to Armenia’s aid if renewed conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh “became a threat to the Republic of Armenia.”
“The Republic of Armenia and not another country is the guarantor of Artsakh’s security, meanwhile I must say that if a military threat to Nagorno Karabakh grows into a direct threat to the Republic of Armenia, no doubt, Russia will carry out its allied commitments and those stipulated by the agreement,” Ohanian was quoted by Panorama.am as saying.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry publicly dismissed Ohanian’s remarks on August 26. Speaking to ANS-TV, the head of the Azeri Defense Ministry press office, Eldar Sabiroglu, dismissed the statement as “ridiculous” and called Ohanian the “chief of department for the Russian Defense Minister,” News.az reported.
“He [Ohanian] is already behaving as the chief of department for the Russian Defense Ministry and it seems ridiculous,” Sabiroglu was quoted by News.az as saying. “Our lands are occupied. Armenian separatists must be withdrawn from these lands by all means.”
Commenting on the Russian-Armenian pact, Sabiroglu said the Azeri Defense Ministry interpreted the agreement as being “signed between the two states.” He said the contents of the document are up to the contracting parties but noted that the “protocol can neither stop nor curb the Azerbaijani army.”
He added that Azerbaijan must upgrade its military’s weaponry under the new circumstances.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an historic Armenian territory is populated completely by indigenous Armenians. The region was invaded by the Azerbaijani Armenia after it declared its independence from Soviet rule in 1991. Baku’s incursion and earlier attempts at ethnic cleansing in the late 1980s prompted a war that left some 30,000 dead. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic remains unrecognized by the world community and international mediators have so far failed to broker a final peace accord between Azerbaijan. Baku continues to threaten renewed war in the region and regularly violates a cease-fire regime in place since 1994.