Azerbaijan's government has for the first time addressed an apparent dispute with Russia over arms shipments, blaming it on Moscow sending inadequate equipment.
Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (who holds the portfolio of defense industry issues) made an unannounced trip to Baku. Both Russian and Azerbaijani press reported, citing unnamed sources, that the visit was aimed at sorting out Azerbaijan's failure to pay for part of $4 billion in arms deals due to the financial crisis the country is suffering as a result of falling oil prices.
This week, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov gave an interview to Russian newspaper Kommersant (which broke the news originally about the alleged payment problems). In it, Mammadyarov says that Baku has no problems paying, but that Azerbaijan was dissatisfied with what it had received:
There is no problem with payments, reports about unsolved financial issues between Russia and Azerbaijan are incorrect. We are paying everything in accordance with the contracts. There are problems in their implementation, in that the weapons arriving in Azerbaijan have to correspond to the technical parameters specified in the contracts. Dmitry Rogozin came to Baku to learn what were the problems connected to those parameters, he got a full explanation and there are no more problems....
I repeat: we have no financial problems with the weapons contracts. The important thing is that the goods be what the contract stipulated. With respect to the realization of the deal, everything is going according to plan. The issue is a necessary correction of the technical parameters of several specific types of weapons. And that, according to Dmitry Rogozin, will be done in the near future. In general our relations with Russia in the military-technical cooperation sphere are developing in accordance with commercial principles and on the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Mammadyarov didn't specify what problems the equipment had. Rogozin, a prolific social media user, has not responded to the allegations. After his trip to Baku he had suggested that all problems were resolved, but never gave any indication as to what the problems were. "Major result of Baku visit: parties confirm to be responsible & reliable partners in a sensitive area such as military-technical cooperation," he tweeted. An independent Azerbaijani defense think tank, the Caspian Defense Studies Institute, reported that during Rogozin's visit Azerbaijan agreed to pay its remaining balance due within three years.
In the interview, Mammadyarov also spoke about a diplomatic note that Azerbaijan sent to Russia after Moscow announced the details of a new arms deal with Armenia. Mammadyarov argued that Azerbaijan has no problem with Russia dealing with Armenia per se, but that the issue was their being used in Nagorno Karabakh, the breakaway territory of Azerbaijan controlled by Armenian forces.
"We understand that any country has the right to deliver arms to whatever country it considers necessay," he said. "The content of the note amounted to a request that Russia, when it delivers weapons to Armenia, takes into account that these weapons should not end up in occupied Azerbaijani territory."
The "real" reason for this dispute may never be known, and is likely a combination of several factors. But Mammadyarov's public suggestion that Russia wasn't carrying out its end of the deal is, if nothing else, a cheeky gesture likely to arouse some annoyance in the Kremlin.