The chief of Nagorno Karabakh's armed forces says the Armenian-controlled territory has substantially boosted its capacity over the last six months, reports RFE/RL:
Lieutenant-General Movses Hakobian estimated that the "military potential" of his troops grew by 20 percent in the first half of 2011.
"During this period, the qualitative and quantitative state of our weapons and military hardware changed quite a lot," Hakobian told a news conference in Stepanakert on August 12. "Quite serious reforms were carried out with the restructuring of two army brigades."
I'm not sure how one quantifies "military potential," but Hakobian said the military is getting new artillery, air defense and anti-tank weaponry, and this year will be getting two divisions-worth of new tanks. All of this is coming from Armenia, presumably originally from Russia, though it hasn't been declared where it should be in the UN Register.
In any case, though, this is still small potatoes compared to the Armenians' foe, Azerbaijan, which nearly doubled its defense spending this year.
Tajikistan has gone on a but of a small-arms buying spree, and Ukraine has been selling lots of weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Those are some of the early returns from the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, to which countries are supposed to report all the weapons imports and exports they have engaged in over the previous year. The 2010 register has been published. Most of the big transfers -- of aircraft or ships, for example -- tend to make the news before this comes out, but lesser deals, like small arms, don't.
Tajikistan hasn't bought much over the last decade, but in 2010 it bought a number of small arms from Serbia and Bulgaria. According to the register, Tajikistan's purchases from Bulgaria:
Recently Azerbaijan again began a serious push to get the US provide it with "defense weapons," in particular, air defense and anti-tank systems.
“Azeri lobbyists and their allies in the US capital received a new assignment from Baku – target getting American weapons for Azerbaijan”, the source said.
“Several years ago, this issue almost defined the US-Azeri relationship, but back then, Baku stepped down after understanding that they couldn’t afford American weaponry on their own”, one of Azerbaijan’s former lobbyists told TURAN’s correspondent, adding, now, Azeri supporters in Washington are arguing that the oil-reach country doesn’t need the US to give them the weapons as aid, they can buy the weaponry.
The article goes on to point out that there is little reason to believe the U.S. would accede to this. Perhaps most of all, it would be against the law, in particular the "Section 907" rules that forbid Azerbaijan from buying weapons from the U.S. And there are several powerful pro-Armenian members of Congress who would make it very difficult to get around that.
Some Wikileaked cables from 2009 reported that Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, personally brought up the idea of getting the U.S. to allow weapons sales. But if the lobbyists in the U.S. are now working on this, that would suggest that this is serious.
I asked Adil Baigurov of the U.S. Azeris Network, an Azeri-American advocacy group, what he thought of the report. He said he didn't know if Azerbaijan really was pushing to get U.S. weapons, but that if it were, that would be a good idea:
Satellite photos of air defense systems in Nagorno Karabakh.
Militaries in the former USSR are among the most secretive in the world, but our new information age is creating some opportunities to peek behind the curtain a bit. One of my favorite examples is the open-source military analysis by the folks at IMINT & Analysis, who pore over Google Earth satellite imagery of air defense systems and try to come to some conclusions. In the most recent issue of their newsletter (subscription only, but free, viewable as a Google Doc here) they look at Azerbaijan's systems, and the news isn't good for Armenia. After looking at the various systems Azerbaijan has, they conclude:
This well organised overlapping [air defense] system will deny Armenia any chance of sorties within Azerbaijan’s territory along the Nagorno Karabagh border. Its air force will cover the gaps for the protection for the rest of the nation if Armenia takes desperate measures to inflict extra losses. For the time being Armenia’s limited air arm provides no real threat for any strikes within Azeri territory, the only threat being the R-17 [Scud missiles].
The Scud missiles could be used in an attack on Baku's oil infrastructure, the analysis continues:
This post was amended on 6/30/11; the report does not cover the May 26, 2011 clash between police and protesters in Tbilisi.
In keeping with a persistent trend, the state of democracy in the South Caucasus ranges from so-so (Georgia) to bad (Armenia) to really bad (Azerbaijan), according to the recently released "Nations in Transit," an annual democracy health test for the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, prepared by the Washington, DC-based Freedom House.
First case: Azerbaijan. The country was diagnosed with a “Consolidated Authoritarian Regime,” a chronic and “severe disregard of basic freedoms” and of “due democratic process.” The richest in resources and the poorest in democracy of the three South Caucasus countries, energy-rich Azerbaijan saw its 2011 score slip by a seventh of a point to 6.46, a notch above the absolute-failure score of 7.
Last year’s parliamentary vote, widely seen as a state-managed show to lend a whiff of legitimacy to Azerbaijan's ruling Aliyev dynasty, contributed to the decline. The report holds that the ruling elite continues to bathe in the country’s natural resources -- oil and gas -- and allows no leeway for opposition, media or civil oversight; in effect, leaving Azerbaijan vulnerable to the same pressures that led to the Arab uprisings.
Armenia is producing unmanned drones for military use, the country's deputy air force commander has said, according to RFERL:
“We have quite serious unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), even those capable of carrying out objectives deep inside enemy territory,” Colonel Armen Mkrtchian told journalists. “They are made in Armenia.”
Mkrtchian refused to give any details of domestic drone manufacturing, which exists only in a limited number of countries. He would not say if Armenian-made UAVs are designed only for surveillance missions or air strikes as well.
This is the first time Armenia has publicly said it has drones, which this report calls "official confirmation" of what had been rumors for a long time. But rival Azerbaijan -- which already uses drones close to the line of contact over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh -- and Armenia seem to take opposite tacks when it comes to discussing their military buildups. Azerbaijan brags about how much it is spending on new defense systems, while Armenia slyly drops rumors that it, too, is keeping up. But both approaches lend themselves to exaggeration -- and the little amount of information that Armenia has "confirmed" here seems like it might be part of a disinformation campaign.
But it could just as likely be true. Armenia would be joining a rapidly growing list of drone manufacturers -- and doing its best to keep up with Azerbaijan.
A few weeks ago there was some back and forth between Armenians and Azerbaijanis about whether Russia would come to Armenia's defense in the case of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Well, now a top Russian general has weighed in, and he sounds pretty certain that Russia would get involved. General Andrei Tretyak, the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Defense Ministry, discussed the Russian military's future plans with some analysts, and this is from Dmitry Gorenburg's account:
In a discussion on the situation in Karabakh, General Tretyak agreed with a participant’s assessment that the possibility of conflict in that region is high, but argued that it is gradually decreasing as a result of Russian efforts to reduce tension in the region. He disagreed with the suggestion that Russia’s relationship with Armenia is eroding and made clear that Russia will carry out its promises to that country. No one should see Russia’s refusal to intervene in Kyrgyzstan last summer as a precedent for Karabakh, as that was a very different situation.
Hmm, that can't make too many folks in Baku feel too confident. Tretyak also weighed in on Central Asia, and suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organization could help fill the security vacuum that will be created by the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. And he seems to acknowledge that the CSTO kind of dropped the ball on Kyrgyzstan last year, when it did nothing to stop the pogroms that took place there in what many saw as the first big test of the collective security group:
He also felt that what he saw as the inevitable US withdrawal from the region will have a negative effect on stability.
Armenia's announcement this month that it was tripling its troop commitment to Afghanistan raised some eyebrows. It has no NATO aspirations, and has largely thrown in its strategic lot with Russia, as evidenced by the agreement it recently signed allowing a large, decades-long Russian military presence in the country.
But the newest trend in Eurasian geopolitics is multi-vectored foreign policy (i.e., trying to balance relations between various big powers rather than becoming dependent on a single one), pioneered by Kazakhstan but now increasingly deliberately employed across the region. And that means that even faithfully pro-Moscow states like Armenia have to hedge their bets a little. Thus, Armenia's contribution of two extra platoons (81 soldiers) to help guard the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, bringing its troop contribution to a total of about 130. As Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told Mediamax:
First of all, this step is based on Armenia's interests in accordance with the multi-layer and initiative foreign policy of our country, and demonstrates our particular place in the world order after the "cold war".
And he played down suggestions that cooperating with NATO in Afghanistan was somehow incompatible with Armenia's membership in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, emphasizing the CSTO's cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan:
Would the Collective Security Treaty Organization come to Armenia's aid in the event of a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh? It's a question that has been the matter of speculation for some time. And last week Armenia's defense minister said yes, the CSTO would support Armenia. Via AFP:
“Given Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, we can count on an appropriate response and the support of our allies in the organization, who have specific responsibilities to each other and the ability to react adequately to potential aggression,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told a security conference in Yerevan.
Of course, what "an appropriate response" entails could be very much up to interpretation. And much depends on whether the war would involve only Karabakh -- which is de jure part of Azerbaijan -- or Armenia. If the former, the CSTO would be less likely to get involved, since it wouldn't involve an attack on a member nation. In a piece called "Kazakhstan dashes Armenia's collective security hopes," News.az quotes a couple of Kazakh security experts saying making that point:
“If a military conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not be an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia”, [Murat] Laumulin [senior fellow at the Kazakh president's Strategic Research Institute] said. "This issue is Azerbaijan’s internal affair, because Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan’s administrative territory....”
The director for analysis and consulting at Kazakhstan’s Institute of Political Solutions, Rustam Burnashev, shares Laumulin's view.
He said that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was an internal Azerbaijani affair: “What's most important is how much Armenia itself would raise this issue and how much Azerbaijan would bring it before the international community."
When it comes to human rights, the Armenian government needs to get the concept of proportionality right, believes the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg.
After visiting Yerevan this January and hearing grievances from the country's highly polarized political camps and civil society groups, Hammarberg penned a report, released yesterday, that targeted a range of human rights problems -- from police brutality to restricted civil liberties -- characterized by the adjective "disproportionate."
Taming opposition-minded media? Putting up hurdles to gatherings of government critics? Attempting to control civil society groups? Disproportionate, disproportionate, disproportionate!
The powers that be in Armenia promised to consider Hammarberg’s instructions, but getting the proper sense of proportionality may prove tricky. The commissioner characterized the use of police force in the deadly 2008 clashes as “on the whole” proportionate, but with disproportionate elements.
So, where to draw the line? Is it okay to have a fistfight until somebody picks up a bottle? Defining "disproportionate" might be a good place to start.