July 31 2013

July 31, 2013 - 6:11pm, by Joshua Kucera

Nagorno Karabakh's armed forces have been substantially strengthened
by large deliveries of weaponry over the past two years, said the
head of the armed forces of the breakaway territory, according to
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

"We have never had a situation which we have now in terms of obtaining
concrete weapons and military hardware," their top commander, General
Movses Hakobian, told a news conference in Stepanakert.

Hakobian said the arms acquisitions have been so extensive that the
Karabakh Armenian military has difficulty storing them and plans to
build a new arms depot for that purpose. He declined to specify the
types of new weaponry delivered to it.

Providing no details is standard practice. Armenians, both in Yerevan
and in Karabakh (which broke away from Azerbaijan after the collapse
of the Soviet Union), tend to talk big about their military might
but provide few details. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, loves to tout
its weapons purchases, probably to the point of exaggeration.

(Incidentally, the most authoritative source of real data on arms sales
and transfers is the database of the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute, which does a pretty complete (or, as complete as
you can get) accounting of arms deals around the world.

But remarkably, the database has absolutely no information on Karabakh,
or the other ex-Soviet breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia
and Transniester, underscoring again what a black hole this part of
the world is for verifiable information.)

I asked Emil Sanamyan, editor of Armenian Reporter and a good observer
of military issues in the South Caucasus, what this might have been
about, and he said that the armed forces of Armenia and Karabakh are
so integrated that Armenia shipping arms to Karabakh is essentially
an internal process:

Since Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh essentially have one military
force (just wearing slightly different patches), whatever Armenia
gets is essentially what NK gets. The question of whether particular
weapons systems are deployed in NK's territory or not is really not
that important since stuff can always be moved around. And then some
systems, like the S-300s or aircraft, don't have to be physically
based in NK to provide NK with full coverage.

What does happen is that for purposes of international accounting via
the CFE and the Vienna process, only the units based within Armenia
proper can be inspected and even then there are limitations. So for
example, Armenia has consistently declared only about 100+ tanks
over the last decade, whereas at least as many if not more tanks
participate in semi-annual exercises held in NK.

(Sanamyan adds that Azerbaijan uses its own tricks to evade CFE
rules, by claiming that "a large number of their units are based on
the territory that is in fact under Armenian control, so these units
also fall outside any inspections regime.")

Anyway, that's all a long way of saying that we have no idea what the
Karabakh forces actually got. But they seemed to turn up the rhetoric
a notch, anyway, with the claim that they are bursting at the seams
with weapons. (And his announcement was in the context of an allegedly
"unprecedented meeting" of Armenian military leaders in Stepanakert.)
Is there any fire to this smoke?