New Delhi: Armenia has turned to India to beef up its defences with the purchase of an artillery system amid continuing tensions with Azerbaijan, a close ally of Pakistan and Turkey. Over the last two months, Armenia has procured anti-tank missiles and multi-barrel rocket launchers, among other types of munitions, from India in the wake of a Russia-negotiated truce preceded by fighting over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The latest equipment on Armenia’s shopping list is the mounted 155mm 39-calibre artillery system manufactured by Bharat Forge, a private defence firm part of Pune-based conglomerate Kalyani Group. This will be the first artillery order for Kalyani Group — the maker of multiple indigenous gun systems yet to be procured by the Army.
While the Kalyani Group maintains that the USD 155 million (over Rs 1,200 crore) order is for a “non-conflict zone”, sources in the defence establishment have now identified Armenia as the buyer. The gun systems will be manufactured at Kalyani Group’s facility in Pune and delivered to the buyer in phases over the next three years.
But this is not the first time Armenia has bought Indian defence systems. In September this year, Yerevan signed a government-to-government contract with New Delhi for the indigenous Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, anti-tank missiles and ammunition.
Armenian Defence minister Suren Papikyan even met his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh on the sidelines of the DefExpo held in Gandhinagar last month, looking to expand defence cooperation with India. ThePrint had reported then that Armenia was eyeing more defence deals with India including procurement of drones, counter-drone measures and loitering munitions, besides mid-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems like the Akash developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The ex-Soviet republic had bought four indigenous ‘Swathi’ weapon-locating radars from India in 2020, which were delivered in the backdrop of its renewed conflict with Azerbaijan.
Revisiting the conflict, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian Monday accused Azerbaijan of “shooting civilians” doing farm work in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Government of India has been wary of speaking on defence cooperation with Armenia owing to the former Soviet republic’s strained ties with Azerbaijan, seen by many as part of an emerging axis alongside Turkey and Pakistan. Observers have pointed out that, despite their physical distance, an “indirect linkage” has emerged between Armenia-Azerbaijan and India-Pakistan in recent years.
In 2017, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan issued a joint statement establishing security cooperation and building further on previous bilateral military aid arrangements. Azerbaijan later deployed Turkish drones in the 44-day war against Armenia in 2020, and is believed to be in talks with Pakistan to buy the JF-17 fighter aircraft.
In September 2021, the three countries also launched an eight-day joint military drill that came to be known as the “Three Brothers” exercise.
Incidentally, Pakistan was the second country after Turkey to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state on 12 December, 1991.
The regional trio is important in the sense that it will “add a military component to the political ties”, Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute, was quoted as saying by Arab News in 2021.
In the Baku Declaration signed last year, the speakers of the Turkish, Azerbaijani and Pakistani parliaments agreed to support each other’s territorial integrity, while underlining their respective priorities. The declaration was an expression of overt support for Azerbaijan’s campaign in Karabakh, Pakistan’s claims in Jammu and Kashmir, and Turkey’s standpoint vis-à-vis the Cyprus, Aegean and East Mediterranean disputes.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)