Russia starts delivering $1 billion arms package to Azerbaijan

MOSCOW Tue Jun 18, 2013 9:09am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has begun delivering tanks, artillery cannons and rocket launchers worth $1 billion to Azerbaijan, a Moscow-based defense group said on Tuesday, as the former Soviet republic strengthens its military readiness in the volatile South Caucasus.

Oil- and gas-producing Azerbaijan, where President Ilham Aliyev faces re-election in October, has boosted arms spending and threatened to take back the disputed territory of Nagorno- Karabakh by force from neighboring Armenia.

Nestled between Iran, arch-rival Armenia and its former Soviet master Russia, Azerbaijan sits on a web of oil and gas pipelines that carry its offshore energy reserves to Europe via Turkey, its ally.

The arms package, signed in a series of contracts between 2011 and 2012, includes nearly 100 T-90C tanks, Smerch and TOS-1A multiple rocket launchers and Msta-A and Vena artillery cannons, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of defense think tank CAST.

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.

A spokesman at Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport was unavailable for comment.

Russia has almost completed deliveries of a previous, larger package, estimated by CAST as worth $2-3 billion and including S-300 missile systems and attack helicopters. Azerbaijan has also announced a $1.6 billion arms deal with Israel.

Although political and defense analysts doubt Azerbaijan has any immediate appetite for war, it has increased its military spending in recent years. Aliyev has said spending on defense will reach $3.7 billion this year.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan said last year that Azerbaijan was accumulating a "horrendous quantity" of arms and was threatening Armenia with a new war.

Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians fought a war in the early 1990s in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave which is inside Azerbaijan.

About 30,000 people were killed in the war, which ended in a truce in 1994, although no peace treaty has never been agreed.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (4)
totherepublic wrote:
No, Putin was not happy with G8 meeting at all was he….? I really don’t think he was bluffing. He did not look like a man that bluffing. He look like a man being pushed to do things he really does not want to do but will do if he has to. This headline with reuters-Putin faces isolation. The last thing we want is an isolated Russia, and then I bet most of you are too young to remember the last isolated Russia. If we forget…we will repeat. I was there. obama was getting high in his college dorm room drinking beer and shooting hoops. Some things have not change much.

Jun 18, 2013 10:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ninika wrote:
While talking on the military threat from Azerbaijan, the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has just forgotten to mention an essential fact that Armenia still keeps under occupation the Azerbaijani territories!

Jun 20, 2013 7:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ulya wrote:
Nagorno-Karabakh is not a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it’s the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan which was occupied by Armenia with the support of Russia and now the latter is equipping both countries and battening on the miseries of the two nations.

Jun 21, 2013 1:49am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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