Azerbaijan has paid great attention to building its armed forces in the recent years. How do you assess the combat readiness of the Azerbaijani army?
The country’s defense budget has grown dramatically in the past years and it continues to grow. We can see a 7-8 times growth over the indicator of 2003. Today our defense budget equals the overall state budget of Armenia. This shows the high attention paid by the supreme commander and the government of the country to the army needs. Naturally, such financing promotes positive development including purchase of weapon, armed technique, ammunition and allocation of more funds for training and maintenance of personal staff, settlement of social problems of servicemen. This has a positive influence on country’s defense capacity and the combat readiness of the Azerbaijani army.
Which problems does the Azerbaijani army have today?
Certainly, there are some problems and I cannot and do not want to bypass them. I consider that what we have today is not sufficient. Our society expects something more. For example, the problem of civil control over the armed forces has not been settled yet. In fact, no one in the parliament, the community or elsewhere, except for the supreme commander, knows about the processes ongoing in the army. No report is made. No parliamentary hearings are held for the defense ministry to report on the items they use the state budget funds and the reasons of frequent deaths in the armed forces. Thus, no relations are being developed between the society and the armed forces. In addition, I think the level of corruption and bribery in the army is growing. There are sufficient grounds to believe that a greater part of state budget funds are misappropriated and this is backed not by the insignificant persons in the armed forces.
Do you think that the funds allocated to the defense sphere from the state budget are sufficient to create an army able to liberate the occupied lands?
As a military expert, I consider that the allocation of funds is not enough. Today we have a good army which is considered the strongest and most combat-ready in the South Caucasus. But our country is facing a task to liberate the lands occupied by Armenia and ensure its territorial integrity. But what we have now is not enough. This is not sufficient for us to start offensive and liberate the lands, raising our flag there.
What do we lack for this?
I consider that we are not ready to this. People often ask whether our army is ready to liberate lands. What else has it to do, if its main vocation is to fight and hold hostilities? Army cannot guarantee victory in war. The responsibility here is laid rather on strategists and the political leadership of the country. A combat ready army is not enough to win in war. Victories are needed in diplomacy, economy and sociopolitical life. Victory has many components and we need to do more to win. We should prepare the society and the army rears for this. We should prepare for war inside the country even in Baku. The most important is the moral spirit of people and military and patriotic upbringing. But the moral spirit of the people is weak so far. In addition, we do not build enough military facilities. I consider that we must excel the enemy at least five times both in the number of the personal staff and the quality of technique and equipment, as well as the rest parameters. I would site another example.
If we drive from Ali-Bayramli inside the country, there is a bridge via Kura. This is the only bridge that links Sabirabad to Ali-Bayramli. This bridge is not intended for transport weighting over 15 tons. But the lightest tank weights 40 tons. How can we say that we are preparing for war? It should not be like that There should be additional bridges by which our tanks will take offensive. However, we have not dislocated all our tanks in the front area. We have reserves and rears somewhere. But are our roads suitable for transportation of a column of tanks and other technique from, for example, Lenkoran or Baku to the conflict area? No, they are not. That is, I think that along with training the armed forces, there is a need to prepare the society, build communications. The war is conducted between the states rather than armies. Army from each side is just an ordinary instrument reporting to the state. Among all state structures the armed forces are most ready for war, because they are intended for this. But, in fact, today no one is ready for war except for the armed forces.
At the recent session in the government by results of 2009 with participation of the president, the head of state spoke of the export potential of the Azerbaijani defense production. Is it actual abroad considering the fact that we have appeared on the arms market not long before?
First of all, I would like to voice my opinion regarding issues of the need for defense industry. This is one of the directions of the nonoil sector which is good because this sector needs in development. Therefore, I consider that the defense industry should be developed especially because we have the necessary potential. As is known, we have certain defense enterprises that have been left since the Soviet times. On their basis we have constructed, or resumed, or restored production that is we use what we already have. Why not use them?! Thus, we send money for the development of something, create additional jobs, produce our own production by means of which we meet the need of the armed forces at low prices. I consider that this is normal and correct.
In addition, today Azerbaijan has a potential to produce for export. For example, as far as I know Turkey and Pakistan have already purchased sniper rifles Istiglal and are planning to buy more. I have also heard that Israel, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia also display interest with it. The negotiations on modernization of technique and spare parts and mechanisms supplies are currently underway with these countries. Is it bad? We produce, sell and get money. This means that there is development. I think we have the most promising cooperation in this field with Turkey, Pakistan and I do not rule out cooperation with Georgia and Israel. Only Iran from the nearest surrounding remains closed in this sense while definite work is carried out with the remaining neighbors including in the post-Soviet area, even with the Central Asian countries. I think the greatest breakthrough will be with Turkey as the potential, understanding and interest are bigger here.