on the silk road

Azerbaijan Announces $2 Billion Military Budget, 53% Rise in Army Spending
April 15, 2008, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

BAKU–Azerbaijan is to increase military spending by 53 percent this year, state media quoted President Ilham Aliyev as saying on Tuesday.

“In the past 4-5 years the military and defense budget of the country has risen from $150 million to $1.3 billion. However Azerbaijan’s state budget over this period has risen ten-fold,” the Azerbaijan newspaper quoted Aliyev as saying.

“I believe that in the context of an overall increase in government spending, defense spending should be increased from $1.3 billion to $2 billion in 2008. Azerbaijan has great military potential and must strengthen this,” he said.

The move comes at a time when Azerbaijan is stepping up its war rhetoric over the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, threatening to take back the Armenian territory by force.
On March 4, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that diplomatic efforts were not enough to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said Trend News Agency.

Aliyev pledged to constantly increase the military budget to buy new military equipment and arms. He said the ultimate goal of this is to ‘liberate’ Azeri lands. On a trip to western Azerbaijan on March 3, Aliyev told reporters that diplomatic efforts “are not enough,” adding that, “to resolve the Karabakh conflict, we have to be strong, we have to be ready to liberate our lands by military means, and we are ready.

Shortly after Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, Azeri armed forces, with the aid of Turkish and Mujahadin mercenaries began attacking Armenian villages in the Armenian enclave. A Russian brokered cease-fire agreement in 1994 brought an end to major hostilities, which erupted into a war for the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts.

Since 1997, the peace talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been conducted by the American, French and Russian co-chairmen of the Minsk Group.

In a bid to remove the conflict settlement process from international mediation, Azerbaijan earlier in March introduced a resolution in the UN General Assembly reaffirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and calling for withdrawal of Armenian forces from “occupied territories.” The resolution was adopted with 39 votes in the General Assembly on March 14. Over 100 countries abstained from the vote. America, Russia and France, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group-the organization mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict-voted against the resolution, citing its one-sided and unconstructive nature. Most Council of Europe countries also abstained from the vote

At the end of last year, the Minsk Group tried to persuade the two sides to accept a statement of basic principles, as a first step towards breaking the deadlock over Nagorno Karabakh’s future–but no agreement was reached.

But Azerbaijan has been trying to cast doubt on the current format of the negotiations, trying to remove the conflict settlement process from international mediation.

With Nagorno-Karabakh a major election issue this year in Azerbaijan, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, who will be running for re-election in October, has been toughening his already bellicose position on the

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, threatening to re-ignite war and take back the Armenian territory by force.
Azerbaijan has grown stronger and richer following the 2006 completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. The BTC, which circumvents Armenia, led to a more pro-Western Azerbaijan, and the tremendous new wealth it generated has helped the country increase its defense spending from $175 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion at the start of 2008.
Azerbaijan reported gross domestic product growth in 2007 of 25 percent, driven by revenues from the export of oil and gas. BP is a major investor in Azerbaijan’s energy sector.

On March 12 from official Baku applied to the OSCE’ secretariat for information on replacing the Minsk Group co-chairs.

Armenia has repeatedly voiced its support for a compromise solution through peaceful negotiations in the Minsk Group format. But with Azerbaijan threatening war and making diplomatic steps to remove the conflict from the watchful eye of international mediators, Armenian authorities are increasingly saying they will recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and sign military agreements with it if Azerbaijan continues to try and remove the conflict from the Minsk Group format.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said in a report last year the fragile truce could be under threat, in part because Azerbaijan is using cash from energy exports to beef up its military.
On March 4, Azeri Armed Forces violated the Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire line and opened fire on Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Army positions northeast of the Martakert Region, temporarily capturing a Karabakh defense position.

The attack, which was followed by protracted skirmishes throughout the month, was considered by Armenian officials and international mediators as unprecedented in its scale.
Meanwhile, Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammedyarov told reporters Tuesday that the sooner Armenia starts displaying what he called “constructive approaches” to the Karabakh peace process the better it would be for the entire region.

“Sooner or later we have to resolve the conflict and authorities in Yerevan realize, whether they want to or not, they will have to show constructive approaches for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” said Mammedyarov.

The Azeri foreign minister also informed the press that the OSCE Minks Group co-chairmen were holding working meeting with the OSCE Chairman in Office in Vienna Tuesday.


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