Of strategic missiles and easy money: Russia’s positioning in the South Caucasus

In recent weeks, important information regarding the military balance of power in the South Caucasus has come to light. On June 3rd it was revealed that Russia has stationed an undisclosed number of Iskander-M ballistic missiles in Armenia. While on June 18th media outlets reported that Russia has begun the delivery of nearly $1 billion worth of weaponry, which include tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery cannons, to Azerbaijan.

While Russia’s delivery of military hardware to Azerbaijan is unfortunate and should be closely monitored by Armenian national security and military officials, it is not a military game-changer as far as Armenia is concerned. The weapons systems that Azerbaijan has purchased from Russia can all be neutralized by Armenia’s own arsenal of anti-tank, surface to air and precision guided missiles. And unlike Baku, Yerevan does not and will not be asked to pay the full retail price for the arms it purchases from Russia. As a CSTO member, Armenia is also often provided with free weapons and training. As one of Moscow’s top strategic partners, Armenia is not likely to be put in a position where the military balance would be titled toward Azerbaijan. Russian officials realize that the loss of Armenia as an ally would quickly lead to Russia’s loss of influence in the rest of the strategic Caucasus and in a worst case scenario the loss of territory in the North Caucasus. Historically, Russia has controlled the South Caucasus in order to ensure control and stability in the North Caucasus. The Kremlin can not afford to lose the Caucasus, and, geopolitically speaking, Armenia is the focal point of the region. It is noteworthy that a source in the Russian Ministry of Defense said Baku’s military purchases had been ‘on hold for some time to avoid upsetting the military balance in the South Caucasus.’ This statement implies that official Moscow decided to go through with the transaction only after it was assured that the balance of military power would not shift in favor of Baku. This statement is corroborated by Armenian defense ministry spokesman, Artstrun Hovhanisyan, who said that Azerbaijan’s acquisition of arms is not seen as being precarious, because Armenian authorities have known about it since the moment the deals were signed.

Full article: Of strategic missiles and easy money: Russia’s positioning in the South Caucasus (Times.am)

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