A Russian Foreign Ministry communique yesterday rejected Azerbaijan’s recent complaints and protests about Russian arms transfers to Armenia. Pegged to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry’s latest statement on the subject (see the Monitor, February 3), and ignoring Baku’s series of demarches, Russia’s Foreign Ministry asserted: (1) that Russian-Armenian military cooperation is not inimical to Azerbaijan; claims to the contrary are “fictitious;” (2) that Moscow’s offer to have those arms transfers reviewed by a trilateral Russian-Azerbaijani-Armenian commission “has been left unanswered by Baku;” (3) that Russia has not transferred arms to Armenia or Karabakh after President Boris Yeltsin’s 1994 decision to stop arms deliveries to conflict zones; and (4) that modernization of the air defense arsenal of Russian troops in Armenia is covered by general modernization programs of Russia’s armed forces, bilateral agreements on the stationing of Russian troops in Armenia and the CIS joint air defense program (Itar-Tass, February 3). This response omits six considerations, which Azerbaijan’s successive statements had cited.
First, Armenian forces are using Russian-supplied hardware to occupy six ethnically Azeri (though “cleansed”) districts in Azerbaijan beyond Karabakh.
Second, the trilateral commission held a number of meetings in 1997 and 1998 in Moscow with the active participation of Azerbaijan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, who several times prolonged his stay in Moscow in the hope of obtaining some results. The commission’s failure was probably inevitable owing to its vague mandate, which Russia shaped as a precondition to creating the commission, as well as to Russian military and bureaucratic obstructions.
Third, from 1994 to 1997 the Russian military clandestinely transferred at least US$1 billion in arms and ammunition to Armenia, according to the report of Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Lev Rokhlin, which he based on Defense Ministry documents. Rokhlin was assassinated, for as yet unexplained reasons, after publicizing that report. In 1998, Russian arms transfers to Armenia were reliably reported to have taken place overland via Georgia, with the logistical assistance of Russian garrisons in that country, and against the wishes of its government. The Georgians stopped at least one transport, but were unable to seriously interfere with the flow.
Fourth, Russia’s military alliance with one party to a regional conflict throws into question its qualifications for the official role of intermediary in that conflict.
Fifth, the arms deliveries, escaping verification, almost certainly broke the ceilings set by the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, creating a fait accompli in advance of any negotiated adaptation of flank quotas.
Sixth, Azerbaijan has pointed out–an observation substantiated by the Turkish position on the CFE treaty–that the accumulation of Russian weaponry in Armenia far exceeds that country’s defense needs and is probably intended as a pressure lever on Turkey. Having lost Azerbaijan, and probably anticipating the loss of Georgia as forward base areas, Moscow increased its military presence in Armenia as a substitute. What Azerbaijan has failed to emphasize is the fact that Russia, exploiting a historic conflict in its own interest, uses Armenia primarily as an instrument, rather than as a genuine ally in this region.
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