July 29 2010

(Reuters) - Azerbaijan has purchased anti-aircraft missile systems
worth $300 million from Russia in the largest single arms purchase
by one of Moscow's former Soviet satellites, a Russian newspaper
reported on Thursday.

Azerbaijan last year signed a deal with Russia's state arms exporter
to purchase two batteries of S-300 anti-aircraft systems, the Vedomosti
daily reported, citing Russian arms industry sources.

Vedomosti quoted an unidentified Russian military official as saying
Azerbaijan had probably purchased the anti-aircraft system to help
secure itself against any deterioration in the situation involving
neighbouring Iran.

Oil-producing, mainly Muslim Azerbaijan has also spent billions of
dollars over the past decade in building its armed forces in an effort
to tilt the balance in a long-running conflict with Armenia over the
rebel region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The report said the S-300 was unlikely to be of much use in any
renewed fighting over Karabakh, since Armenia does not possess the
kind of modern strike aircraft or missiles that such a sophisticated
system would normally be deployed against.

A ceasefire was agreed in 1994, but Azerbaijan -- host to oil majors
including BP, ExonnMobil and Chevron -- has threatened to us force
to take back Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated territory that
declared independence.

An official at Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport declined
to comment on the report.

Armenia has traditionally been Russia's chief strategic ally in the
South Caucasus, but Moscow has in recent years developed closer ties
with Azerbaijan as it vies with the West for influence over oil and
gas reserves in the Caspian Sea.

A spokesman for the Azeri Defence Ministry declined to confirm the
purchase, saying only: "The Azeri army is strengthening itself,
and will continue to strengthen itself."

Russia has put on hold delivery of the same S-300 system to Iran
after throwing its support behind new United Nations sanctions against
Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Opponents of the Iran deal say the S-300s could shift the balance of
power in the region by undermining Israel's ability to use air power
to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.

Citing the Moscow Defence Brief military journal, Vedomosti said the
$300 million price tag for the Azeri deal would make it the largest
arms purchase by any ex-Soviet state other than Russia.

In Russia's armed forces, an S-300 battery normally consists of
four truck-mounted installations, each with four missiles held in
metal tubes.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries, Dmitry Solovyov and Afet Mehtiyeva
in Baku; Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Matt Robinson and
Peter Graff)

From: A. Papazian