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Armenia Seeking Long-Range Weapons

Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (right) with National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian at a meeting of a government commission on defense on August 10.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (right) with National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian at a meeting of a government commission on defense on August 10.
YEREVAN -- Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian says the Armenian government plans to acquire long-range, precision-guided weapons for possible armed conflicts with hostile neighbors, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ohanian's announcement today followed a meeting of an Armenian government commission on national security that approved two programs envisaging a modernization of the country's armed forces. One of the documents deals with army weaponry, while the other details measures to develop the domestic defense industry.

Ohanian said the programs "will qualitatively improve the level of the armed forces in the short and medium terms."

"The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry," Ohanian said. "The main directions are the expansion of our long-range strike capacity and the introduction of extremely precise systems, which will allow us to minimize the enemy's civilian casualties during conflicts."

Ohanian said that "their application will also allow us to thwart enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities." He did not specify whether Yerevan will seek to acquire surface-to-surface missiles capable of hitting targets in historic rival Azerbaijan.

The Armenian military is believed to have short-range tactical missiles. But little is known about their type and technical characteristics. The army command gave a rare glimpse of such weaponry in September 2006, when it showed new rockets with a range of up to 110 kilometers during a military parade in Yerevan.

Ohanian acknowledged that the modernization plan is connected with the risk of another war with Azerbaijan over the disputed breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is not immediately clear whether Yerevan's desire to obtain more powerful weapons is connected with a new Russian-Armenian military agreement expected to be signed soon. The agreement will reportedly take the form of significant changes to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of the Russian military base in Armenia.

Russian and Armenian sources have said in the context of that agreement that Moscow will also commit itself to providing Armenia with "modern and compatible weaponry and [special] military hardware."

Armenian National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian, who co-chaired the August 10 meeting together with Ohanian, confirmed this last week.

Armenia and Russia announced plans last month to significantly step up cooperation between their defense industries. According to Baghdasarian, that cooperation includes setting up Russian-Armenian defense joint ventures.

Ohanian could not confirm Russian media reports that Moscow has agreed to sell S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan in a $300 million deal.

"I think that acquisition of any new weaponry will have a certain impact on the balance of forces [in the Karabakh conflict], but want to note that the S-300 systems are defensive systems," he said. "At the same time, we can't say we have information about their possible purchase [by Azerbaijan]."