YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — New state-of-the-art missiles acquired from Russia recently allow Armenia to strike strategic facilities of its arch-foes, First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said over the weekend.
The Armenian military demonstrated the Iskander missiles as well as several other Russian-made weapons for the first time on September 21 during a parade in Yerevan dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the country’s independence.
With a firing range of at least 300 kilometers, Iskander systems are known for their precision and ability to overcome modern missile defense shields. Their acquisition by Yerevan was first reported by an Armenian army general in April.
In an interview Tonoyan said that Iskander’s range is “long enough to hit facilities of critical significance of any enemy.” He did not elaborate on those facilities, stressing instead that the missiles will primarily play a “preventive role.”
Armenian officials have said in the past that Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas installations could be targeted if Baku attempts to end the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict by force. The Armenian army was until recently able to do attack them only with older Scud-B and Tochka-U missiles with ranges of roughly 300 and 100 kilometers respectively.
Tonoyan refused to disclose any financial details of the Iskanders’ delivery, saying only that Armenia tapped its state budget to pay for the missiles.
Iskander is not on an official list of Russian-manufactured weapons which Yerevan can buy with a $200-million Russian loan disbursed last year. The long list includes, among other things, Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems that were also demonstrated in last week’s parade.
“I don’t want to talk about sources of funding,” said Tonoyan. “But of course we are carrying out a very serious modernization [of the Armenian armed forces] with that loan as well. That modernization is ongoing.”
He also noted: “I think that the demonstrated weapons are not quite congruent with [the level of] our economic development. Russia fulfills its allied obligations in terms of our military hardware.”
Tonoyan seemed to allude to the fact that Armenia has long been able to receive Russian weapons at cut-down prices or even for free thanks to its military alliance with Russia.
Despite that alliance, Moscow has sold Azerbaijan at least $4 billion worth of offensive weapons in recent years. Yerevan stepped up its criticism of the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals following four-day deadly hostilities in Karabakh that broke out in early April.
Tonoyan insisted that despite its massive military build-up of the past decade Azerbaijan has not gained a military advantage over the Armenian side. “We actually have an advantage on the frontline,” he claimed.