Azeri Army Capable Of Liberating Garabagh
The Azerbaijan defense minister Colonel-General Safar Abiyev was interviewed by British "Financial Times" correspondents Robert Corzin and David Stern last week. Below is the abridged text of the interview.
Please provide some information on the situation in the armed forces, number of troops, their fighting trim, condition of the weaponry, etc.
"The Azerbaijan armed forces consist of three parts: ground troops, air force, or air defense, and the navy.
Ground force incorporate artillery, tank and rocket troops. These constitute the bulk of the armed forces. They are equipped with Soviet-made tanks, infantry carriers, armored troops carriers and different-caliber artillery systems. The number of troops is in accordance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.
Air force include air-defense units and radio engineering troops capable of detecting enemy aircraft in Azerbaijan's air space.
The navy was established thanks to the Caspian fleet of the former Soviet Union and comprises 80 various-profiled vessels.
Besides, we have re-established Baku Higher Military Command School, which trains officers of different specialties. Also operating in Azerbaijan are Baku Higher Naval School and School of Military Pilots. The Military Academy of the armed forces started functioning in 1998 to raise senior officers. We maintain upgrade courses for officers, a school of warrant officers and a military faculty under Azerbaijan Medical University to prepare military doctors.
As far as the military and political situation in Azerbaijan is concerned, it is known that Russia has not yet abandoned it imperial claims and is reluctant to let Azerbaijan leave its sphere of influence. Moscow is trying to keep regional tensions running high in order to divert Azerbaijan from the course of independence it is on. Of course, Azerbaijan cannot agree to this.
After the cease-fire was established in 1994, Russia supplied $1 billion worth of weaponry to Armenia. It is no secret that most of the arms were eventually stationed in Upper Garabagh. This is being done to continue manipulating Armenia leaving it no chance of strengthening its independence.
World countries have unequivocally condemned separatism and terrorism on the globe. I think the international community is well aware of Russia's contribution to separatism and terrorism manifested through the support for Kurdish rebels in Turkey and Armenians in Garabagh.
We have information that Kurdish terrorists are being trained in Garabagh by Russian and Armenian specialists to be then sent to Turkey across the Iranian border. The weaponry, relocated from Russia's military units in Georgia to Armenia, are currently being taken to Garabagh.
It is very alarming that not a single country has yet recognized Armenia as aggressor. Armenia is a country supporting separatism and terrorism. Garabagh has been turned into a haven of unregistered weaponry and ammunition. This should perturb the international community too, which has to demand that Armenia pull out from the occupied territories. Despite the 4 UN SC resolutions to this effect, the aggressor has not withdrawn yet defying international appeals. I believe the world community must take resolute steps to enforce UN resolutions."
- What is the situation on the front-line like? Has cease-fire been shattered of late?
"The two warring parties are standing are divided by only 40-50 meters. Of course, cease-fire is frequently violated. Our officers and soldiers who have lost relatives in the war are guarding the front-line. Armenia has occupied our territories, leveled the town of Khojali, killed everyone there, even babies. This is what true genocide is."
- When was the cease-fire last shattered?
"No serious cease-fire violations have been registered of late. However, 5-10 minute shooting spells take place once every 2 weeks or 10 days, but there have been no long violations lately. Largely used in such shootings are firearms."
- How many casualties do you sustain per year on the average?
"You know, people get killed and wounded."
- Russia has recently taken effort to get closer to the Caucasus. Your statements about Russia rub directly against Azeri and Georgian presidents' utterances that it is possible to work with Russian President V. Putin…
"Yes, there are forces in Russia disinterested in stability in Azerbaijan. Russia is our neighbor. Therefore, we wish to have good relations with her, just like with all other neighboring countries."
- How do you view President Putin's latest moves concerning Azerbaijan?
"We were expecting Mr. Putin on an official visit. I would not like to make premature statements. I think time will show. We only want our relations with Russia to be friendly."
- What kind of assistance do you receive from Turkey?
"If I said we receive nothing, it would be wrong. But if you think we receive arms from them, then you are wrong. We have no troops meeting Nato standards."
- Then, how does Turkey help you?
"We get only political support. We would also like to learn everything good from the Turkish army and Nato. Turkey is a Nato member, while Azerbaijan cooperates with the latter within the "Partnership for Peace" program."
- Is it true that Azeri officers undergo training in Turkey?
"No, it is not. A maximum of 2-3 Azeri officers study at Turkish Military Academy every year. As to training sessions by Turkish specialists, let me reiterate that we deploy only Soviet weapons, while Turkish army is equipped to Nato standards."
- Are the Soviet weapons in good condition?
"They are ready for use."
- How will the oil pipelines be safeguarded? Is there such an idea?
"First of all, Azerbaijan is committed to safeguarding security in the region. In this, we cooperate with US, Nato and GUUAM member-states. Recently we conducted a training on safeguarding pipelines in cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine. This is a separate issue and we think that pipeline security should be guaranteed by host-countries, countries safeguarding regional security and the Nato, as part of the "Partnership for Peace" program. I think this is a matter of the future."
- Can you guarantee security of the pipe?
"We guarantee security of the pipeline on our territory. However, this problem has yet to be discussed. Many countries take interest in the pipeline. Therefore, they should join effort."
- How will Azeri army change after oil revenues start flowing in the country?
"Most of the revenues you are talking about will come after the MEP is built. So, it is too early to plan on anything."
- Do you anticipate an increase in expenses on the military?
"No, our military budget has remained on the same level for the past few years."
- Can you say how much is being spent now?
"I don't think figures matter much."
- Is there a need for modernizing the armed forces?
"Of course, there is. The equipment we are using was last modernized before the 80s. Over 20 years, military science has progressed a lot. Azerbaijan is a small country and is, therefore, unable to conduct such modernization on its own, while Russia and Ukraine are. This requires tremendous expenses. We don't have such means. Time will come when Azerbaijan will be cooperating with Nato and only then will we determine what to modernize.
- Do you mean you are hoping Nato will help you conduct modernization?
"I didn't say that. I said what I said."
- Will all the equipment be modernized or only a part of it?
"All the military equipment, including tanks, armored troops carriers, artillery systems, naval and air-defense troops, etc. Need to be modernized."
- What country do you anticipate to receive assistance from?
"From the countries calling themselves our friends."
- How have military operations in Chechnya affected stability in the Caucasus?
"Arms supplies to Armenia and Armenia-held Azeri territories, as well as military operations in Chechnya, affect the military and political situation in the region. You know that Russia has repeatedly blamed Azerbaijan of assisting Chechnya with arms. But, these allegations are ungrounded. This is nothing but a means of pressure on Azerbaijan intended to aggravate the situation."
- Have you fortified your northern border with additional troops?
"No, we have not increased our presence at the northern border. We think they are enough. Azerbaijan keeps situation under control."
- Is there a threat of radical Islamic groupings in Azerbaijan?
"Such a threat doesn't exist. Azerbaijan is a secular state."
- If tensions erupt in Azerbaijan and President is forced to resign, what will the armed forces do?
"Under the constitution, President is the supreme commander of the armed forces. If there is a danger like that for Azerbaijan, the armed forces will prevent it. The army is the guarantor of people's security."
- President Aliyev has said if the Garabagh problem is not solved through negotiations, it will be solved by means of force. What do you think?
"We are ready to fulfil the President's order."
- Are Azeri troops capable of liberating Garabagh?
"Yes, we have the ability to do it."
- Some politicians say a military way of solution to the conflict will take some time for preparation…
"I have no idea what politicians are in question. I repeat that we are ready to fulfil the President's order."
- Thank you.