As tensions again flare up between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Moscow has agreed to lend Yerevan $200 million for weaponry purchases at reduced rates.
In a September 7 statement after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside of Moscow, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan claimed the preferential credit will facilitate “upgrading” the Armenian military’s stockpile of arms. Financial details were not available.
With a base in Armenia, Russia long has served as Armenia’s primary source of arms, even as it co-chairs peace talks between the two countries. The Kremlin has long used both hands to maintain influence in the South Caucasus, but the aid to Armenia left observers wondering what Putin's current game in the region is.
Moscow had been believed to be trying to pull Baku closer in, but the announcement of the gun deal will only chafe Baku. Media reports suggested that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was dispatched to Baku last week with the goal of coaxing Azerbaijan into a closer alliance with Moscow amidst the chill with the West over Azerbaijan’s dismal human rights record.
Some tied the agreement to Russia's continued competition with the European Union for economic influence in the region. In talks with Sargsyan, Putin expressed an interest in seeing Russia’s own trade numbers increase. Although pressure from Moscow arguably contributed to Armenia’s decision to decline a free-trade agreement offer from the EU, Brussels is still trying to tempt Armenia to a less ambitious partnership agreement.
Putin's help in getting Armenia more guns at a lower cost also could be meant to keep Yerevan ever close. Mass protests over increased electricity fees this summer put a strain on ties with Russia, which controls most of Armenia’s energy supply and distribution. The demonstrations, nervously watched by Moscow for symptoms of a Maidan-style uprising, lost momentum after the Armenian government agreed to foot the cost of the higher fees.
If Putin is grateful, Sargsyan, in turn, is grateful, too. Lifenews reported that he thanked Putin during the pair’s meeting for letting an Armenian court try Russian soldier Valery Permyakov for the massacre of an Armenian family earlier this year; a decision, attributed to the protests, that took pressure off Yerevan.
But, ultimately, how Moscow expects this gift-giving and gratitude to reduce tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains unclear.