Armenia has reportedly bought long-range rockets from China, in what would be both an escalation of the rocket race between Armenia and Azerbaijan and a dramatic entry of China into the regional conflicts of the South Caucasus. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported:
Armenia has acquired Chinese multiple-launch rocket systems with a firing range of up to 130 kilometers, a military source in Yerevan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source declined to specify the quantity of the AR1A systems obtained the Armenian military and the dates of their delivery or give other details of the alleged acquisition.
The Ministry of Defense declined to confirm or deny the report, but that's not unusual for Armenia's secretive MoD So assuming the report is true, how should we interpret it?
In an analysis for Regnum.ru, David Arutyunov puts it in the context of Azerbaijan's recent purchase of Russian Smerch multiple-rocket launch systems, of which the Chinese AR1A are an upgraded version (for example, the Chinese rockets have a range of 130 kilometers, versus 90 kilometers for the Smerch). "A tendency is noticeable over the last decade in which Azerbaijan and Armenia are giving priority in their strategy of arms development to MRLS of great distance and caliber," he writes. And those systems, he notes, would be useful for attacking not just military formations but also strategic economic sites.
Azerbaijan's press seems to have largely ignored the news, but one military expert quoted by Day.az didn't try to hide his contempt:
"They bought MRLSs from China? For God's sake. Let them buy as many as they want." Thus responded Azerbaijani military expert Uzeir Djafarov to this news...
Images broadcast worldwide of Turkish protesters fleeing the vehicles since demonstrations swept the country in June may help generate business for the Izmir-based company in nations from Brazil to Libya that face social unrest, Chief Executive Officer Mehmet Katmerci said. Sales of dispersion vehicles will rise six-fold this year, he said....
“There’s huge interest in our TOMAs,” Katmerci, 40, said in an interview in Izmir on Aug. 13. “People saw through the world media that Turkey is able to produce such vehicles.”
TOMA, incidentally, is the Turkish acronym for "vehicles to intervene in social incidents," which sounds a lot cleaner than "water cannon." In addition to Brazil and Libya, the company reportedly sees Azerbaijan as a growth market. Not surprisingly, since Baku has already bought a number of TOMAs and gets frequent use out of them, including in protests just this weekend (though it's not clear if those water cannons were TOMAs or another model).
Russian President Vladimir Putin led a high-powered delegation to Baku this week, and security issues seemed to be high on the agenda, leading to renewed speculation about whether the traditional geopolitical allegiances in the South Caucasus may or may not be shifting.
The fact that the delegation included such a large number of heavyweights spoke to the significance of the visit. In addition to Putin, it included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the heads of Russia’s biggest oil companies, Rosneft and Lukoil. Also along for the visit were some ships from Russia's Caspian Flotilla and the fleet's commander, Vice Admiral Sergey Alekminsky. Putin's remarks after his meeting with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev focused mainly on economics and business ties, but also touched on security:
During our talks we paid a great deal of attention to resolving problems in the Caspian region. We are interested in seeing this region become one in which peace and cooperation reign. There are still many unresolved issues here, relating to security, border delimitation, conserving biological diversity in the Caspian Sea and so on. We have a vested interest in resolving all these problems, naturally taking into account the interests of all littoral states.
It is symbolic that our talks coincide with a friendly visit of a detachment of the Russian Caspian Flotilla to Baku. The Dagestan missile ship and the Volgodonsk small artillery ship are among the vessels. At the end of 2013 Azerbaijani sailors plan to make a return visit to Astrakhan.
Azerbaijan has investigated reports of sales of French/German anti-tank missiles to Armenia, and has concluded that they were provided by Greece and Cyprus. Azerbaijan news agency APA reports, citing unnamed military officials:
The investigations carried out by Azerbaijan have revealed that Armenia has purchased anti-tank missiles and a lot of machine-guns and grenade throwers from Greece and Cyprus in the past two years. According to the obtained reports, Armenia has purchased more than 20 MILAN missiles from Greece. The missiles have been reportedly sold from the arsenal of Greek armed forces.
For its part, the Greek embassy in Baku has denied the claim.
Shortly thereafter, APA reported that Azerbaijan itself had bought anti-tank missiles from Ukraine last year. Ukraine, in theory, is subject to the same sanctions as France and Germany are: the sanctions are imposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Ukraine is a member, too. But the sanctions obviously are enforced only by certain OSCE members.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Armenia has yet to comment on the issue.
Azerbaijan is complaining about reports that Armenia has required French/German anti-tank missiles in apparent violation of European sanctions against the two countries. The controversy began when an Armenian website published photos of an Armenian Ministroy of Defense exposition last year. On display, apparently, was a MILAN anti-tank missile, jointly produced by France and Germany.
And Azerbaijan has objected, reports APA: "The embassies of [France and Germany] in Azerbaijan were demanded to clarify how these countries that imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to the conflicting parties could deliver these systems to Armenia."
Both the French and German ambassadors have responded publicly, saying they didn't do it. The French ambassador:
“I have no precise information about this sale which is very highly improbable, because the export of military equipment would be in contradiction with these sanctions. The French side is now investigating the information and the source it came from.”
"Germany is in compliance with OSCE embargoes on arms sales to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Exports of military equipment would be contrary to the sanctions. The federal government doesn’t have additional information," the embassy said.
Meanwhile, the Armenian Ministry of Defense is staying quiet on the matter.
The results for Azerbaijan proved the big surprise from the South Caucasus in this year's Global Corruption Barometer by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.*
Though Azerbaijan is repeatedly rated and berated as the region’s most corrupt country, many of the 1,001 Azerbaijanis surveyed for the poll by the Baku-based SIAR (Social and Marketing Research Company) had a more positive assessment of their national corruption situation than did respondents for neighboring Armenia and Georgia.
Azerbaijan long has had run-ins with allegations that senior officials and members of President Ilham Aliyev's family are cashing in on their positions, but, apparently, most respondents believe the government now is giving the corruption fight all it's got. Sixty-eight percent of respondents deemed the government's actions "effective," a rate which topped Georgia, often described as the region's main corruption-buster, by 14-percentage points.
On perceptions of corruption in the public sector, Azerbaijan finished a half point behind Georgia, roughly mid-range on a scale of one to five, while Armenia settled firmly into the trouble zone at 4.4.
Similarly, both in Azerbaijan and Georgia, public perception of corruption of political parties was 28 percent of respondents, according to Transparency International (TI). The rate is noticeably higher in Armenia, at 57 percent.
Russia has completed a big arms delivery worth about $1 billion to Azerbaijan, following reports that Baku was in fact suffering under a quiet de facto arms embargo from Moscow. The deals were in fact signed over the last two years, and most of them seem to have been previously reported. But they were apparently recently delivered to Baku and included, according to Reuters, "nearly 100 T-90C tanks, Smerch and TOS-1A multiple rocket launchers and Msta-A and Vena artillery cannons."
But wait, Bug Pit readers are saying. Didn't we just hear in April that Russia had cut off arms sales to Azerbaijan, in particular of several military aircraft deals that were in the works? That doesn't necessarily contradict today's news, given that the latter refers to various deals already signed. An interesting paragraph in the Reuters piece:
A source at the Russian Defence Ministry said the order had been on hold for some time to avoid upsetting the military balance in the South Caucasus, where Russia has a military base in Armenia and an agreement to defend the country if it comes under attack. But the deal had been pushed through at the behest of Russia's powerful arms industry, he said.
Turkey is promoting its eastern cities of Trabzon and Erzurum as potential transit hubs for U.S. and NATO military cargo being shipped out of Afghanistan. With its proposal, coordinated with Georgia and Azerbaijan, Turkey joins a crowdedfield of competitors for the potentially lucrative reverse transit business -- at least $6 billion -- as coalition forces start pulling out of Afghanistan.
At a conference on Afghanistan military transit and broader Eurasian transportation prospects in Riga this week, the head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Department of Relations with Caucasus and Central Asian countries, Yavuz Kül, said that Turkey was opening its territory to both lethal and non-lethal equipment. Trabzon, he said, is about 1,750 miles from Kabul and has good air- and seaport facilities. Erzurum, meanwhile, is only 1,400 miles from Kabul and "at the center of the Turkish rail network," Kül said. With the completion of the Baku-Kars railway project, cargo flown or shipped into Baku will be able to travel by rail to Turkey. "We hope that this will be a hub in the future for reverse transit," he said.
The Baku-Kars project has been consistently delayed: this news story from 2007 said it was supposed to be completed by 2008. But Kül spun it differently: "We are planning to finish by the end of this year. Of course, the initial project was for 2015. However, taking into consideration the reverse transit process, we wanted to accelerate the process," he said, adding that they will "coordinate with our Georgian and Azerbaijani friends."
Georgia and Azerbaijan have been publicly cooperating a lot lately, with presidential meetings and news of co-producing military jets and armored personnel carriers. That military cooperation, in particular, is projected to grow, writes Azerbaijani analyst Zaur Shiriyev. In a two-part series in Today's Zaman, Shiriyev looks at some of the details of the increasing cooperation, in particular in the military-industrial sphere. Shiriyev traces the increased cooperation to the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia:
[S]ince 2008, new opportunities have arisen. Prior to 2008, Baku had long demanded that Tbilisi stop letting Armenia repair its battle tanks and other armored techniques at a Russian munitions factory in Tbilisi. Once Georgia cut ties with Moscow and agreed, high level ministry of defense visits from Azerbaijan to Georgia commenced and both sides reached a compromise. This stimulated the development of their defense industry cooperation.
Azerbaijan doesn't have aspirations to join either NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a top government official said on a visit to Germany. "We envision our future security model within the framework of the Nonaligned Movement,” said Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential department for socio-political issues, said at a forum dedicated to “Azerbaijan’s European Path: Achievements and Potentialities.” Hasanov added: “Therefore Azerbaijan will neither be a member of NATO nor the CSTO, while cooperating with both.”
“It does not mean that Azerbaijan will not or can not change its choice. The choice can change anytime. Azerbaijan’s national interest is the decisive factor, if the national security interests require that it is necessary to join NATO, then it will be so. If national interests require reconsidering Azerbaijan’s participation in CSTO, this issue will be reconsidered. Our security, energy, economic, political and social interests arise from and are based on the needs, interests of the Azerbaijani people,” he said.
Given that Azerbaijan hasn't been doing anything to indicate that it intends to join either alliance, it's not exactly news that Hasanov said this. But it's an interesting statement in the context of Azerbaijan's recent rocky relations with Russia. President Ilham Aliyev has been palling around with his Georgian counterpart and Kremlin bugaboo Mikheil Saakashvili, and there has been talk of an "emerging alliance" between Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. And that was before the great Eurovision scandal.