‘They have enough to destroy both countries’: How an arms race is adding deadly fuel to fire of decades-old Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Warring neighbours once sparred with small arms and Soviet-era mortars. But escalating arms purchases mean both countries now have formidable arsenals of modern tanks, howitzer artillery cannons, unmanned drones and sophisticated aircraft, as Borzou Daragahi reports

An official walks among objects which Armenia presented as downed drones during recent armed clashes
An official walks among objects which Armenia presented as downed drones during recent armed clashes

The advanced Russian Su-30SM fighter jets were overkill, critics said, and much more than the tiny republic of Armenia needed for its defence. But the previous government in Yerevan had committed to purchase up to a dozen from Russia on extremely favourable payment terms, despite maintenance and training costs. The last thing the new government of prime minister Nikol Pashinyan needed was more trouble with the Kremlin, which had been the primary patron of his predecessor.

But the fighter jets took on a whole new significance in April, when Armenia’s neighbour and arch-rival Azerbaijan also announced its intention to purchase Su-30SM fighter jets, manufactured by Russia’s Sukhoi Aviation at a cost of around $50m each.

By mid-July, when fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the fighter jets derided by some as a gratuitous boondoggle were scrambled into action, screeching over the conflict zone.

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