Moscow is driven by the principle of "parity" in its arms supplies to rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan, a senior Russian defense official has said, in comments that are likely to further erode Armenia's confidence in its ostenible military ally, Russia.
"I know that the sale of arms by Russian manufacturers is carried out by the decision of the Russian leadership taking into account the necessity of observing parity," Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said at a press conference June 18. "In addition to the arms Azerbaijan buys, arms are delivered and sold to Armenia in quite large quantities. And that allows a sort of parity to be maintained."
Armenia is a member of the CSTO, a post-Soviet defense bloc, while Azerbaijan is not. The CSTO has been dogged by doubts about its effectiveness, but Armenia is the most loyal member, seeing the alliance as a instrument of Russian support against Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has been extravagantly rearming itself with the aim of retaking Nagorno Karabakh, its territory that it lost to Armenian forces in a war in the early 1990s. The fact that Azerbaijan has been making many of those purchases from Russia has been causing increasing discomfort in Yerevan. Earlier this year the scale of those sales was revealed for the first time, with Russia supplying a whopping 85 percent of Azerbaijan's total weapons acquisitions.
"It appears that the priority of the CSTO is not the defense of the security of its members, but peaceful regulation, that is, the observance of parity between its ally Armenia and its non-ally Azerbaijan," wrote the Armenian news site lragir.am in response to that news.
"We have talked about this [arms sales to Azerbaijan] many times with Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], we can't not talk about it," Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said in a Russian TV interview in April. "Today we have a capable army, but at the same time we need more funds to have a capable army. You know that Armenia doesn't have a lot of money, but it has a capable army. This is in part thanks to the allies of Russia, and the first strategic ally of Armenia is Russia."
These most recent comments, however, appear to be the first time a Russian official has formally acknowledged that "parity" is in fact Moscow's strategy.
Bordyuzha also offhandedly mentioned earlier this year that Azerbaijan could become a member of the CSTO. “The CSTO is ready to discuss the membership of any country – be it Iran, Georgia or Azerbaijan. Should Azerbaijan file an application to join the CSTO, we’ll discuss it, but will discuss with all member states, including Armenia,” Bordyuzha said. The fact that Georgia was included in that list should suggest that CSTO was not an imminent possibility for any of those countries, but nevertheless an Armenian journalist asked Bordyuzha about that. “I don’t remember having sent an invitation to Azerbaijan, although I think all countries should participate in the works of a security system," he said.
He also said the CSTO does not intend to get involved in the Minsk Group process trying to resolve the conflict diplomatically. And he assured Armenia that the CSTO would be there in case of a crisis: “Armenia is a full member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and has the right to get assistance from allies in case of negative developments on its territory. Armenia will get support from partners if necessary," he said. But Armenia may be wondering who gets to decide what is "necessary."