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Azerbaijan Flexes Military Muscles

Calls for Baku to quit CFE treaty as it boosts defence spending.
By Jasur Mamedov
Calls are increasing in Azerbaijan for a review of the country’s quotas under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Otherwise, the voices say, Azerbaijan should withdraw from the agreement.

The demands have become louder after Russia’s recent announcement that it was suspending its participation in the CFE treaty, which sets limits on the amount of weaponry European countries can hold on their territories.

They coincide with a massive increase in Azerbaijan’s military budget which is worrying some observers, who say that it increases the likelihood of the resumption of war over Nagorny Karabakh, the territory left under Armenian control after the conflict of 1991-4.

“NATO is worried about the mass arming in the zone of the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh,” Robert Simmons, NATO secretary general’s special representative for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, said after a visit to Azerbaijan in March. “Azerbaijan and Armenia have exceeded the arms limits set in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.”

In Azerbaijan itself, the possibility of the collapse of CFE is being broadly welcomed. “This move is positive for Azerbaijan: since we intend to build up our military capacities, Russia’s withdrawal unties our hands,” said political expert Ilgar Mamedov. “Now it’s important for our authorities not to make any concessions to those forces that will try to make us adhere to CFE limits.”

Many in Azerbaijan are displeased with the quotas set for Baku by the treaty, saying that they discriminate against the country in relation to its smaller neighbour and foe, Armenia.

The soaring growth of Azerbaijan’s military budget has been made possible by the country’s huge new oil revenues. The overall 2007 defence budget is 907 million manats (just over one billion US dollars). Military expenditure has increased by 27.9 per cent, in comparison to last year and now accounts for 16 per cent of the entire state budget.

Of the sum, 796 million manats will go to the defence ministry and 110 million manats to the recently formed defence industry ministry.

The Doctrine military research centre in Baku says that Azerbaijan’s military spending per capita, now 105 dollars a year, easily exceeds that of Armenia and Georgia, 70 and 65 dollars respectively.

Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliev said on television that his country’s defence budget was now eight times larger than it was four years ago and that military expenditure was the number one spending priority. “This is because we live in a state of war and our territories are occupied,” he said. “The war is not over yet. There is only a ceasefire being observed.”

He said Azerbaijan’s military budget was now equal to the entire state budget of Armenia and would be further increased.

In recent weeks - following the latest failure of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to make a diplomatic breakthrough in talks on the Karabakh dispute last month - Azerbaijan leaders have been more aggressive in their rhetoric and more openly talking about going back to war with Armenia.

“In the military sense Azerbaijan is the strongest state in the region,” President Aliev told Azerbaijan’s Police Academy on July 2. “Armenia should understand that and voluntarily withdraw its forces from lands that do not belong to it. Then there will be no war.

“No one wants losses but we are gathering strength and at any moment we are ready to carry out any operation. Azerbaijan will never consent to the preservation of the status quo.”

According to 2004 statistics, there are 78,000 military personnel and 4,000 civilians serving in Azerbaijan’s armed forces.

Azerbaijan has been buying new weapons and equipment, including 12 long-range multiple rocket-launch systems, new artillery, anti-tank weapons, T-72 tanks and MiG-29 fighter aircraft.

With regard to the breaching of the CFE treaty, Azerbaijani foreign ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim told IWPR that Armenia was at fault for keeping armed forces in Nagorny Karabakh.

“On Azerbaijan’s occupied territories there are armed forces that have transgressed both territorial and national limits, and these belong to Armenia,” he said. “They have exceeded the national limits of both Azerbaijan and Armenia. As a matter of fact, Armenia has been able to conceal its military forces’ armaments that are not allowed under the CFE. These include tanks, armoured machinery, artilleries and helicopters. This is where most attention should be directed.”

Asked about Azerbaijan’s alleged violation of CFE limits, Ibrahim said the treaty contained provisions that allow for the liquidation of old weapons and the purchase of new ones. “Naturally, Azerbaijan has been buying new weapons to bring its military forces in line with modern standards,” he said. “Not only Azerbaijan, but many other countries may exceed their limits while replacing their old weapons with new ones. One should not dramatize this issue.”

Concerns have also been raised both in NATO - which has given Azerbaijan an Individual Partner Action Plan to fulfil that insists on a more transparent defence ministry - and inside the country that the military budget is opaque and it is not clear what the vast influx of new money is being spent on.

Military expert and colonel in the army reserve Ildyr Mamedov said that Azerbaijan’s military forces were bloated and that too much was being spent on weaponry rather than the social needs of soldiers. He said the budget was creating conditions for corruption.

Yashar Jafarli, who heads the public organisation Officers in Reserve, noted that in most countries there was a 50-50 split between spending on weaponry and on salaries and social needs, but that in Azerbaijan the proportion was 60-40 in favour of weapons.

Uzeir Jafarov, a lieutenant-colonel in the army reserve, also voiced concerns that living conditions of soldiers were not improving.

An Azerbaijani lieutenant earns 250-300 dollars a month, while a major takes home over twice that amount. But ordinary soldiers and sergeants earn only between five and fifteen dollars a month.

Jafarov said that the defence minister still owed retired military personnel around 100 million dollars, or between 300 and 700 dollars a person.

“Just imagine, the defence ministry is not honouring more than 200 court decisions from the Sabail district [of Baku] alone,” said Jafarov. “The supposed explanation for this is that the finance minister is not giving the defence ministry the money to make these compensation payments.

“Moreover, in January last year the president signed a decree on increasing food allowances for the military but it still has not been implemented. Every officer gets just 30 dollars a month to feed himself. So what is the point of increasing the military budget?”

Jasur Mamedov is editor of the Armeiskoe Zerkalo newspaper in Baku.

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