YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Despite its massive military buildup Azerbaijan still lacks the capacity to protect its strategic facilities against Armenian missile strikes in case of another war for Nagorno-Karabakh, a retired Armenian army general claimed on Friday.
Armenia and Azerbaijan threatened each other with devastating long-range attacks during the recent escalation of fighting along the border between the two states and “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Each side claimed to be capable of destroying any target in the other’s territory.
The Armenian military had made clear earlier that it will target Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas installations if Baku acts on its threats to reconquer Karabakh and the surrounding Armenian-controlled territories.
General Vagharshak Harutiunian, who had served as Armenia’s defense minister in 1999-2000, insisted that the Azerbaijani army lacks the kind of sophisticated weapons that can neutralize such strikes. He said S-300 surface-to-air missile systems purchased by Azerbaijan from Russia in 2010 can only be used for anti-aircraft purposes.
“S-300 is a serious system, but it needs special missiles in order to be used for missile defense,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Russia doesn’t sell such missiles to any other state.”
Azerbaijan may also possess Israeli missile defense systems. They were reportedly among $1.6 billion worth of weapons which Israeli defense firms agreed to sell to Baku in 2012.
Speaking about the Armenian missile arsenal, Harutiunian singled out Soviet-manufactured Scud-B systems with a firing range of 300 kilometers. The Armenian army also has more precise Russian Tochka-U ballistic missiles with a firing range of 120 kilometers.
President Serzh Sarkisian promised last December that Armenia will acquire more powerful weapons in the coming years. “One or two more years, and you will be able to proudly say that the Armenian army possesses weapons which other states 20, 30 or 40 times our size do not possess,” he told soldiers at a military base in the northeastern Tavush province.
Some analysts believe that Sarkisian referred to Russian state-of-the-art Iskander-M missiles that can strike targets more than 400 kilometers away. Iskander was designed to overcome any of the existing missile defense shields.
“They don’t aim to start war,” Harutiunian said of Baku. “They realize that if a war breaks out they are not going to win. That is why they provoke incidents and sabotage attacks, rather than use heavy weapons. They don’t reach a point where a war is inevitable.”