Former Defense Minister of Armenia, Lt.-Gen Vagharshak Harutyunyan in an interview to ArmInfo comments on the recent trends in Armenian-Russian cooperation in the sector of Military Industrial Juggernaut. He brings reasons for establishing joint Armenian-Russian group, shares his opinion about the current balance of forces of Karabakh conflict sides, as well as comments on the latest changes in security systems of the region’s countries and the European continent.
The process of improving Armenian military industrial juggernaut gradually raises to a new level judging from statements made on quite high level both in Yerevan and Moscow about the idea of Armenia's joining Russian-Belarusian interstate financial-industrial group of “Defense System”. In your opinion, what benefits will Armenia have by making this step?
The cooperation in military sector is very delicate issue demonstrating the real level of relationship between any of countries, and not only between Armenia and Russia. And Armenia's joining tight connections of Russia and Belarus in this aspect gives us opportunities to develop own military industrial juggernaut and to exchange different scientific and technological data. I am confident that Armenia's joining to Russian-Belarusian interstate financial-industrial group of Defense System will lead to the qualitative growth of Armenian MIJ, as well as to the establishment of different joint ventures in this sector. In other words, I see it as a regular step to improve the defense system of Armenia.
In your opinion, what kind of prospects of developing own defense industry does Armenia have?
Armenia's objectives should be own and joint researches, staff training and preparation of manufacturing capacities to provide volumes as large as possible in respect to production, repair and working out new kinds of armaments and technical means. And it is exactly the effective cooperation and work with Russia and Belarus that makes us hope to reach the results expected in the sphere of military industrial juggernaut. I am sure that such cooperation will essentially decrease our expenditures for army equipment, improving at the same time it's military power. Of course, we are not able to produce global-range armaments by now, we have no such financial assets, but the process mentioned will promote Armenian industries anyway.
On November 14, the President of Russia approved creation of the joint Armenian-Russian group, which is the logical completion of military cooperation between Yerevan and Moscow. Despite the fact that this group has existed for quite a long time, this information sparked turmoil in Armenia, particularly opinions are voiced that Armenia’s Armed Forces are passing under Russian command. Would you please comment on the situation?
Turmoil is sparked among the people who do not fully understand the core of the processes and this turmoil is artificial. On the other hand, this is a part of the information war aimed at deteriorating the Armenian- Russian relations. Such a scenario meets the interests of Azerbaijan and Turkey, first of all. In fact, the creation of the joint military group is the logical continuation of the Armenian-Russian military and political cooperation - both bilateral and within the CSTO. But given the threats from Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia could not simply do without an ally - Russia in this particular case. The presence of the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia, which is meant to suppress Turkish and other threats, implies creation of such a group. Joint forces and a single commander are needed to jointly resist the aggression. An Armenian can be such a commander, though in case of Turkish aggression against Russia there can be a Russian commander upon mutual agreement of the parties. The thing is that earlier this cooperation was based on interdepartmental agreements and documents, whereas now it has been raised to an international level.
Do you suppose that the joint Armenian-Russian military group may act against Azerbaijan?
Of course, in case of aggression against Armenia. The agreement does not apply to Artsakh and this lets some people speculate on this topic. However, in case of Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh, the presence of the joint military group itself will allow Armenia to send more forces for defending Artsakh
So, do you think that the level of confidence between authorities of Armenia and Russia is so high that defense of Armenia’s border can be entrusted to the joint group?
Russia and Armenia have the most trust-based relations in the post-Soviet space today. Even Belarus - Russia's ally - does not enjoy such confidence, because the level of confidence depends on deeds rather than statements. I think the supply of Iskander strategic systems to Armenia is direct evidence of that confidence. Other countries do not get such systems. They cannot even purchase them. By the way, the Iskander systems were provided to Armenia to prevent Azerbaijani aggression.
What happened in April was not a large-scale war, but a provocation by Baku to demonstrate to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs that Baku is able to seize Karabakh in a military way and to make the Co-Chairs resolve the conflict in Azerbaijan's favor. However, Baku failed to achieve that goal. It is only the balance of forces ensured by Armenia - including due to the military and technical cooperation with Russia - that prevents Azerbaijan from unleashing a large-scale war today. Certainly, Azerbaijan is at advantage in terms of certain types of weapons, however, the Armenian side remains at advantage in strategic and military-political terms. Turkey and Azerbaijan will undertake no aggression against Armenia because the 102nd Russian military base is located in Armenia. The huge gap between the military potentials of Russia and Turkey also contributes to maintenance of the balance of forces between the Karabakh conflict parties.
“Iskanders”, “Skads” and “Tochka-U” in our case play a role of nuclear weapon preventing a large-scale war. Are there any mechanisms to prevent local wars like the April one?
There are both diplomatic and military mechanisms that can prevent April-type local wars. Each provocation should be repelled in a worthy manner - there is no other military mechanism. However, it is impossible to resolve the problem by means of military mechanisms only. A complex of measures is needed given that military provocations are the only mechanism in Baku's arsenal to influence the settlement, because Azerbaijan is unable to resolve the Karabakh problem by means of negotiations or large-scale war.
Armenia holds only the third position in the threats list of Azerbaijani unofficial security doctrine, while Russia and Iran hold the first two positions. Why is Azerbaijan so much afraid of Russia and Iran?
I have mentioned many times that exaggerated military budget of Azerbaijan is aimed not only at Armenia. And beside Russia and Iran Azerbaijan is seriously afraid of Turkmenistan. Acceptance of Iran as a threat to own security is preconditioned first by Turkey factor, which tries to solve own problems in the region through Baku, including the 2016 April events. Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan are also determined by existence of Southern Azerbaijan as north Iranian provinces. Turkey also affects the relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, second being the ally of Armenia, which, in fact, is an obstacle for Azerbaijan and Turkey to solve common task, to solve the Karabakh problem in their own manner. There are also Lezgians in the Northern part of Azerbaijan, and many other factors. Moscow does not use those yet, but if Baku takes anti Russian path, those will be activated for sure. At that in Karabakh issue, Baku accepts as ally to Armenia not only Russia, but also Iran.
Erdogan’s intention to topple Asad is just another regular evidence of geopolitical competition between Moscow and Ankara. Considering this fact Russia’s intention to sell S-400 air defense missiles to Turkey seems illogical…
Turkish air defense systems do not have long-range means. “Patriot” systems, which are of S-400 type were deployed by Turkey’s allies in NATO, particularly the USA on the Turkish-Syrian border after Turkish plane was shot-down only for temporary use, and Americans remained their owners. That is why Turkey is extremely interested in Russian S-400. Turkey today voices intentions to refuse from European vector of development up to quitting NATO membership and to join EEU and CSTO. I am, of course, skeptical about such intentions considering Turkey's addiction to falsifications. I think that Turkey just tries to get from Russia as much as possible, and after to return to NATO. Within this, Moscow tries hard to isolate Turkey from NATO, and Russia’s intention to sell air defense systems to Turkey is pretty logical in this context. Within this meaning, the military and technical cooperation is the best tool for Russia. Moreover, the S- 400 in not a limit for Russia any more, because the latest armament makes are never being sold. Russia has already developed S-500 and Moscow holds the negotiation on selling S-400 within the consideration of the factor mentioned. But, considering the technical capacities of Russia, this deal will have much more political dividends. To note, Russia has similar military-technical cooperation with another NATO member - Greece.
Throughout all the recent decades the USA have been ensuring Europe’s security and US forces in Europe are evidence of that. Newly elected US president Donald Tramp’s pre-election call to stop ensuring this security for free raised big concerns in Europe. After this Europe started to make overtures to Russia. Do you think that in this light the EU United Army may be created or the EU may revise its own security strategy?
Knowing the European mentality, I could suppose that they will not give up the American security umbrella in the nearest future. That is why we should not expect any essential changes in respect to this issue. After all, that is simply impossible. During all the recent decades European safety was secured by the United States, and the evidence of that is American forces in Europe. And, setting the ultimatum to quit that security, Donald Trump, the President-elect, clearly understands, that 70% of NATO expenditures are on USA, and yet Europe has no option for own security other than US. And the BREXIT is the brightest example that everything in Europe today is not so good, and not only in the aspect of security. The United Army of European Union is an utopia in my opinion. And the implementation of that idea is impossible not only due to economic reasons, because without American forces European army could never stand off Russian Military Forces. United Europe has attacked Russia several times, and every time that ended with Russian army entering Paris and Berlin. Considering also the nuclear potential and Russian military industry, Europe has no chances today. And Trump, who is businessmen, clearly understands that, and that is the reason he requires to be paid. And Europe will pay, as far as there is no other option. In respect to relations with Russia, taking into consideration the strengthening of China, there could of course be some changes, bonuses like "soft power" cancellation of bans, but the competition between the West and Russia will not expire.