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Armenia 'Unfazed' By Azerbaijan's Growing Military Spending

Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian inspects Armenian troops serving in Afghanistan in July.
Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian inspects Armenian troops serving in Afghanistan in July.
YEREVAN -- A senior Armenian defense official has said Yerevan is seeking a more efficient military at a relatively low cost in response to Azerbaijan's growing military spending, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Armenian First Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told RFE/RL on October 25 that "asymmetry in military art implies inflicting unacceptable damage on the enemy with little force and fewer capabilities used."

Tonoyan said that as far as Azerbaijan is concerned, Armenia has developed "a strategic system of checks" that he said had stopped Baku from breaking the current peace.

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan said it would spend $3.1 billion on its military in 2011 -- an increase of nearly 90 percent compared to this year.

That would make the Azerbaijani military budget more than eight times the Armenian government's proposal of about $386 million for its military in 2011.

The two former Soviet republics fought a three-year war in the early 1990s over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, where ethnic Armenians constituted a majority of the population.

Hostilities ended only after the warring parties signed a Moscow-brokered cease-fire agreement in 1994. By then some 30,000 people had been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

Sporadic skirmishes along the line of contact between the Karabakh-Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces have continued since the signing of the cease-fire.

Both sides have suffered more than a dozen confirmed military casualties since June this year in skirmishes.

"Armenia is doing what it has done since 1994," Tonoyan said. "In fact, already for 16 years our armed forces are engaged in checking the hostilities."

He stressed that by increasing its military spending Azerbaijan did not necessarily increase the "combat readiness" of its armed forces.

Tonoyan said a number of European countries comparable to Armenia in size and population had military budgets several times larger than Armenia's.

"But it does not at all mean that these states' military capabilities are better," he said.

"It is at the least naive to expect a victory by only increasing military spending and purchasing arms. The outcome of a war is decided by much more important factors and the lessons of the Karabakh war should be learned [by Azerbaijan]," Tonoyan said.

He added: "It is already several years that we have witnessed preparations [in Azerbaijan] to solve the Karabakh conflict militarily. I think it is a matter of concern not only for Armenia, but also for the international community. Regardless of its outcome a war would have catastrophic consequences for the entire region."

Tonoyan said Armenia had a clear vision of a security environment for itself and the region, as well as "a realistic evaluation of the existing threats and a clear direction for neutralizing these threats."

Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led defense alliance of seven other former Soviet republics. The treaty calls for a collective defense action should any of its members be attacked. Karabakh is not, however, considered to be Armenian territory.

As Moscow's closest ally in the South Caucasus, Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is also receiving Russian-made weapons at low prices.

A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August extends Russia's military presence in Armenia until 2044 and commits Moscow to supplying Yerevan with "modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware."