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Belarus sells its Polonezes to Azerbaijan: how will Armenia react?

Armenia’s defense and foreign ministries have reacted to Kommersant’s recent report that shortly Azerbaijan will receive ten Belarusian missile systems. Armenia regrets that its Collective Security Treaty ally, Belarus, has decided to sell new weapons to its enemy, Azerbaijan, and doubts that this will foster peace in the region.

Kommersant quotes a source close to the Defense Ministry of Belarus as saying that in 2018, the country is going to sell ten Polonez systems and the most probable buyer is Azerbaijan: the Azerbaijani defense minister has already visited Belarus and has visited the facility assembling the systems.

The first such report appeared in Feb 2018, but no supply followed as Armenia protested. Military expert Alexander Alesin only assumed that such a thing might happen just to see some mass media making noise over the news.

They said that Azerbaijan and Belarus were old partners in defense and might well make such a deal. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s words that Azerbaijan was Belarus’s brother and he was not going to find excuses for his military partnership with that country added more fuel to the fire.

Belarus and Azerbaijan are actually old partners in defense. According to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, in 2002-2012, Azerbaijan bought from Belarus 153 T-72 tanks (out of 271 exported tanks), 120 D-30 artillery systems, 12 2S7 Pion self-propelled guns, 60 BTR-70 wheeled armored personnel carriers, 11 Su-25 attack planes. Azerbaijan also assembles Belarusian military vehicles (Maz6317 and Maz5317) and is going to enlarge the cooperation.

Polonez is sad to have a longer range than Russian Smerch, used by the Azerbaijanis during the four-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in Apr 2016. Polonez can hit a target 200 km far from it. It has eight 7.2 meter-long 301mm missiles and can launch all of them within just 50 seconds. Nine such systems are enough to destroy the enemy’s facilities over an area of 100 square kilometers.

Until now Armenia has not commented on the news but after Kommersant’s article (even though it has not been confirmed officially), the country hurried to react. Spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry Tigran Balayan was short: “Our position concerning the sale of arms to Azerbaijan is clear and has not changed. As regards this specific article, the Armenian Foreign Ministry does not comment on news by anonymous sources.”

Azerbaijan has long been looking for a counterpoise to the Russian Iskanders supplied to Armenia. Last year, Azerbaijan mass media reported plans to buy Iron Dome air defense systems from Israel. Later they mentioned Belarusian Polonezes and said that Azerbaijan was committed to finalize the deal as it was crucial for its propaganda war.

When asked if Armenia would complain to the Collective Security Treaty Organization if the news was confirmed – especially as now that organization is chaired by former Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Army Yuri Khachaturov, Balayan said: “Diplomacy has no ifs. I am saying once again: our position is clear and it has not changed.”

Balayan did not specify the position but we assume that he referred to the displeasure expressed by the Armenian president and foreign minister every time Russia sold any new weapons to Azerbaijan. For Armenia, Russia is also the biggest arms supplier but the Armenians enjoy much lower prices.

Spokesman of the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan was more talkative: “No matter who is the seller, we regret that anybody sells arms to a state like Azerbaijan, a state where there is no civil control over the army, a militarized and destructive state that keeps causing instability in the region. Azerbaijan has bought and will buy arms and we keep this in mind.”

But Hovhannisyan is sure that the deal will have no effect on the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.

Nagorno-Karabakh was very tough on the matter. Deputy Head of the NKR President’s Staff David Babayan said that if the news is confirmed, Armenia will have to complain to the Collective Security Treaty Organization: “This looks like a follow-up on the Lapshin case (Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin was detained in Belarus on Azerbaijan’s request just because he had visited Nagorno-Karabakhedit.). How could anybody sell arms to a state like Azerbaijan? Azerbaijan is buying arms not for defending itself but for attacking, killing and destroying the others. This will not change the situation drastically, but this will escalate tensions in the region.”

Until now Russian experts have doubted that Belarus will sell the systems to Azerbaijan. “The problem is that Polonez is not purely Belarusian product: its chassis is Belarusian, while its missile is Chinese. Belarus does not produce the systems but just assembles them. So, it can sell them only given China’s consent,” says Russian military expert Alexey Leonkov.

His Armenian colleague David Arutyunov does not agree with him: “Even though I don’t rule out the Chinese factor – especially now that Armenia and China are actively developing their military contacts – but as a rule, the Chinese do not object in such cases.”

“Belarus is very important for China as a platform for spreading its influence in Eastern Europe. And China is not the United States, who often objects to the sale of its arms to third states. China would be happy to see its technologies spread,” Arutyunov said.

Arshaluys Mgdesyan

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