In the wake of the recent revelation that Russia has begun the delivery of some $1 billion in arms and weapons systems to Azerbaijan , there is renewed concern over a possible shift in the already delicate regional balance of power in the volatile South Caucasus. Although this new arms deal does provide Azerbaijan with a significant amount of offensive weapons from Russia, including battle tanks, heavy artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers, in strictly military terms, it is not sufficient to impact the balance of power on its own..
But over the longer term, there is a significant, but subtle shift in the regional balance of power now underway, driven by three specific trends:
- The first trend is a pronounced and escalating “arms race,” defined by a serious and steady increase in Azerbaijani defense spending, with Armenia compelled to try to keep pace, and matched by political discourse shaped by militant rhetoric and threats of force;
- The second trend stems from Azerbaijan’s procurement of modern offensive weapons, with this deal representing only the latest example. This procurement also comes from new arms suppliers, whose arms sales to Azerbaijan are driven by profit, with little concern for the danger of renewed hostilities;
- A third, more recent trend is rooted in a pattern of increased Azerbaijani probes, attacks and cross-border incursions, as a strategy to forge greater “operational combat readiness.”
The broader context is also important, as Russia is clearly exploiting the unresolved Karabakh conflict and rising tension in order to further consolidate its power and influence in the South Caucasus. Within this context, Russia has not only emerged as the leading arms provider to Azerbaijan, but also continues to deepen its military support and cooperation with Armenia. For Azerbaijan, Russia offers an important source of modern offensive weapons, while for Armenia, both the bilateral partnership with Russia and membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) offers Armenia its own essential security guarantees.