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Armenian Minister Downplays Anticipated Russian Missile Sale To Azerbaijan

August 25, 2010

YEREVAN -- Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian says the rumored sale by Russia of sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missiles to Azerbaijan will not give Baku a "strategic advantage" in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Ohanian also said that he has "no doubts" that under an agreement signed with Russia last week, Russia would openly support Armenia in the event of a new conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh that "became a threat to the Republic of Armenia."

The agreement extended Russia's lease on its military base in northern Armenia until 2044 and gave it a greater role in ensuring Armenia's security. It also commits the Russians to supplying the Armenian military with modern weaponry.

Pro-government politicians and some analysts in Yerevan believe that this will discourage Azerbaijan from acting on its frequent threats to resolve the dispute by force.

The deal was signed on August 20 during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Yerevan following reports that Moscow plans to sell S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan. The reports, not denied by Russian officials, have raised concerns in Armenia and Karabakh.

Opposition groups there say the long-range surface-to-air missiles would seriously limit the Armenian military's ability to hit strategic targets in Azerbaijan, and thereby encourage Baku to try to resolve the Karabakh dispute by force.

Ohanian, who played a major role in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan and subsequently commanded the Karabakh Armenian army, dismissed such concerns.

"I must point out that the acquisition of Russian S-300 air-defense systems [by Azerbaijan] cannot directly influence the correlation of forces between Armenia and Azerbaijan, because their use by Azerbaijan against the Armenian Armed Forces would be fruitless under all possible scenarios," he said. "The reason for that is simple: we are very familiar with those systems, we have been exploiting them for quite a long time, and we know the possibilities of reducing the effectiveness of such systems."

Ohanian was likely referring to at least two batteries of S-300s that were deployed by Russia at its military base in Armenia in the late 1990s.

Top Russian military officials announced in early 2007 that Moscow has further upgraded Armenia's air defenses and trained Armenian military personnel to operate the air-defense systems. The Armenian military confirmed that, saying the training began in 2005.

Ohanian added that even if Azerbaijan does acquire S-300s, it would need "quite a lot of time" to develop an integrated radio-technical system for them.

He added that the missile deal would therefore not harm the Russian-Armenian military alliance.

"We are strategic partners, we are part of the same military-political system, our cooperation is quite close, and there is readiness on both sides for mutual assistance on any security issue," he said.

Ohanian declined to specify what kind of sophisticated arms Moscow has pledged to supply to Yerevan within the framework of the new agreement, citing "military secrecy."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Armenian__Minister_Downplays_ Anticipated_Russian_Missile_Sale_To_Azerbaijan/2137546.html

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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