YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia regards its sophisticated missiles recently acquired from Russia as a new deterrent against Azerbaijan’s possible attempts to achieve a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, President Serzh Sarkisian said in an interview published on Thursday.
He also told the state-run Russia Today news agency that the Armenian government remains committed to a compromise peace deal with Baku based on key principles advocated by the U.S., Russian and French mediators.
Sarkisian asserted that Yerevan got hold of the Iskander missiles in an effort to shore up the military balance in the conflict zone. “It’s no secret that Azerbaijan has regularly acquired state-of-the-art weapons for the last several years,” he said. “We don’t have the kind of financial resources which Azerbaijan has, but we constantly try to balance the situation, finding antidotes.
“I think that in this case Iskander is such an antidote. Of course, arms race is a bad thing and we don’t want it. But what can you do when you are threatened with war and extermination on a daily basis?”
With a firing range of at least 300 kilometers, Iskander systems are known for their precision and ability to overcome modern missile defense shields. The Armenian military demonstrated them for the first time on September 21 during a parade in Yerevan.
Armenian officials have said in the past that Azerbaijan’s oil and gas installations could be targeted if Baku attempts to end the Karabakh conflict by force. The Armenian army was until recently able to do attack them only with less advanced Scud-B and Tochka-U missiles.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev renewed his threats of military action over the weekend at the start of large-scale military exercises conducted by Azerbaijan. He specifically warned of a repeat of offensive operations launched by his troops in Karabakh in April.
“If [the Armenians] want a peaceful settlement without casualties, they must leave our lands,” Aliyev was reported to say. We also do not want a war. We just want to regain our territory.”
Sarkisian brushed aside Aliyev’s threats on Wednesday in comments to the Yerevan newspaper “Golos Armenii.” “They should realize in Baku that they cannot achieve a military solution,” he said.
Speaking to Russia Today, Sarkisian reiterated Yerevan’s claims that Baku is reluctant to comply with confidence-building agreements which he and Aliyev reached at their last two meetings held shortly after the April escalation. The agreements brokered by the mediators were meant to bolster the ceasefire regime along the Karabakh “line of contact,” including through international investigations of armed incidents occurring there.
The president further stated that the Armenian side stands ready to negotiate with Azerbaijan over a framework peace deal proposed by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. It is based on the universally recognized principles of territorial integrity of states, people’s right to self-determination, and non-use of force.
“We are ready for a resolution of the issue on the basis of these three principles, but only on the basis of these three principles,” said Sarkisian.
Sarkisian said he and Aliyev nearly signed such a peace accord at a 2011 summit in Kazan, Russia. Aliyev scuttled the breakthrough with last-minute demands for more Armenian concessions, he claimed.
The mediators’ Basic Principles of a Karabakh peace were first put forward in 2007 and have been repeatedly modified since then. They call for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts in Azerbaijan proper fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces. In return, Karabakh Armenian’s would determine the territory’s internationally recognized status in a future referendum.
Aliyev and Sarkisian hinted at progress towards a peaceful settlement after their most recent meeting hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg in June. The mediators hoped that they will meet again in the coming months or even weeks. No such meeting has been scheduled yet, however, with each conflicting party now accusing the other of obstructing the peace process.
Asked whether he is prepared for a follow-up summit with Aliyev, Sarkisian said: “If there is no progress, if we meet but our agreements are not fulfilled afterwards, what’s the use of such meetings?”