Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense ‘Bolstered after April War’
STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—A senior official in Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday warned Russia against selling more weapons to Azerbaijan, saying that they would increase the risk of renewed fighting between Karabakh, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
“They should understand in Moscow that Russian weapons sold to Azerbaijan are used against Armenian civilian settlements,” said Davit Babayan, the spokesman for Artsakh President Bako Sahakian.
The Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Vladimir Dorokhin, said over the weekend that Moscow intends to sign fresh defense contracts with Baku soon. But he did not specify the types of Russian weaponry that could be delivered to the Azerbaijani military.
“This cannot fail to worry the Armenian side and Artsakh (Karabakh) in particular,” said Babayan “We believe that they must not sign arms contracts with a country like Azerbaijan.”
Russia has already sold at least $4 billion worth of tanks, artillery systems and other offensive weapons to Azerbaijan in the last several years. Armenian leaders renewed and stepped up their criticism of those arms deals following the April 2 Azerbaijani offensive in Karabakh.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev rejected the Armenian criticism after visiting Yerevan later in April. He said that that Russia delivers weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan and thereby sustains the “military balance” in the Karabakh conflict.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu signaled Moscow’s readiness to sell more weapons to Baku when he met with his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart Zakir Hasanov last month. Shoygu said he would be “happy” to see an Azerbaijani delegation at an arms exhibition which the Russian military will hold in September.
However, Nagorno-Karabakh has built new defense fortifications following April’s heavy fighting with Azerbaijani forces, a senior official in Stepanakert said on Tuesday.
Karabakh’s government and military began fortifying Armenian positions immediately after a Russian-brokered agreement halted the four-day hostilities that left at least 190 soldiers from both sides dead. Virtually all local construction firms were mobilized for the effort.
RFE/RL correspondents witnessed some of that construction work when they visited various sections of the “line of contact” around Karabakh in April.
“The enemy’s military operations showed that the kind of military engineering structures that are needed for classic warfare are not sufficient,” said Artur Aghabekian, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. “The only way to counter enemy airstrikes is new and adequate fortifications.”
“You can say that a big task has been accomplished: the entire frontline is now fully equipped in the engineering sense,” Aghabekian said. He added that Karabakh Armenian forces deployed there have also been provided with more modern night vision and communication equipment.
Shortly after the “four-day war” with Azerbaijan, Aghabekian launched on behalf of the Karabakh leadership a fundraising campaign primarily aimed at buying new weapons for Karabakh’s Defense Army. It has raised about $10 million so far, mostly from ordinary Armenians in Karabakh, Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
Aghabekian admitted that the relatively modest sum is not enough to finance a military buildup planned by the authorities in Stepanakert. But he said half of that money has already been efficiently used for bolstering Karabakh’s defenses.
Other Karabakh officials said in April that the Defense Army will soon receive more weapons from Armenia’s armed forces, with which it is closely integrated.