Azeri paper warns of row with Georgia over military aid to Armenia

Zerkalo, Baku
2 Feb 05


Excerpt from C. Sumarinli and M. Yasaroglu report by Azerbaijani
newspaper Zerkalo on 2 February headlined "A military scandal is
brewing between Georgia and Azerbaijan" an subheaded "If Tbilisi
continues repairing Armenian tanks, this issue will be discussed at a
parliament session"

Zerkalo has repeatedly written about Georgia's inconsistent and more
than strange policy towards Azerbaijan. In some issues, our Georgian
neighbours pretend that they are giving us all-out support, but do
quite the opposite in other cases.

The information we have discovered may trigger a new incident between
the two countries' authorities as it is directly related to
Azerbaijan's interests in the Karabakh issue. The point is that
[Russia's] Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported yesterday that the Tbilisi
tank repairing plant of the Group of Russian Troops in the
Transcaucasus [GRTT], which is the only plant of the sort in the South
Caucasus, has been handed over to the Georgian Defence Ministry.
[Passage omitted: details of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta report]

In a word, no problem is anticipated between the Georgian and Russian
defence ministries. However, problems may arise with Azerbaijan.

The point is that until recently, not only Russian and Georgian tanks,
but also armoured vehicles of the Armenian army were repaired in
Tbilisi. Let us recall that several years ago, official Baku accused
Georgia of giving military aid to unfriendly Yerevan. Official Baku
turned down the Georgian and GRTT offer to provide the Azerbaijani
army with the same services.

What will neighbouring Georgia do now that it owns the plant? And one
should not forget that Georgia is Azerbaijan's strategic partner.
[Passage omitted: details of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta report]

Interestingly, Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry displayed "enviable
awareness" of the issue. To put it simply, the Azerbaijani Defence
Ministry has no idea about this at all. At least this is what Col
Ramiz Malikov, head of the Defence Ministry's press office, told our
Zerkalo correspondent.

"I have no idea about this information and that's why I cannot say
anything specific," he said.

Despite the spartan calm of the head of the Defence Ministry press
office, a member of the parliament's standing commission for defence
and national security, Alimammad Nuriyev, views this issue as quite
serious. He says that official Baku should focus on the issue,
"carefully study it and express its concern to the Georgian side".

Nuriyev believes that the handover of the tank repairing plant to
Georgia has fundamentally changed the situation. Given the fact that
Russia and Armenia are military and strategic partners, the repairing
of Armenian military hard ware at the Georgian plant is a logical
reality, which, however, is not in Azerbaijan's interests. But if the
situation has changed in favour of Georgia, official Tbilisi simply
has to take into account the interests of Baku, which is its strategic
partner. What's more, like Azerbaijan, Georgia has chosen to integrate
into NATO.

"Given all these factors, one should not view normally the fact that
Georgia is repairing Armenian military hardware," Nuriyev said. He
voiced his hope that the Azerbaijani government will express its
position on the issue.

Nuriyev believes that if the situation develops in the direction that
goes against Azerbaijan's interests, the issue will be raised at the
Azerbaijani parliament. He said Azerbaijan has many levers to pressure
Georgia, and the Georgian side understands this. However, he refused
to elaborate on this, as Azerbaijan has not announced its official
position.

In turn, independent military expert Col-Lt Uzeyir Cafarov said that
official Tbilisi should take account of Azerbaijan's interests and,
most importantly, of the fact that we are at war with Armenia. Georgia
should limit its military cooperation with Armenia. Otherwise, the
expert said, tensions may emerge in Azerbaijani-Georgian relations in
the near future.

Cafarov is sure that Armenia will continue having its military
hardware repaired at that plant for a long time. However, sooner or
later official Tbilisi will have to take into account Azerbaijan's
interest, he said.

The expert thinks that it is of benefit to Azerbaijan to have its
tanks repaired at this plant instead of Armenia. As a person who used
to serve in Georgia, he also noted the high professionalism of the
plant's staff in this sphere. Many, including Azerbaijan, have
refused the services of the plant, as a result of which the capacity
of the plant has halved.

"I think that the plant will be upgraded to modern international
standards with the help of NATO. This will be possible in three or
four years. It will be good if Azerbaijan also used the services of
this plant," he said. [Passage omitted: minor details]