The Russian government has agreed to loan $200 million to Armenia as part of a deal that will see the former Soviet Republic buy sophisticated weapons from Moscow at a discount, according to a report on Friday.
Armenia already hosts a Russian military base and the nation’s deputy defense minister, Ara Zazaryan, reportedly told a parliamentary session in the capital of Yerevan that Moscow will provide the money to purchase modern Russian weapons through 2017.
But, according to Agence France-Presse, which first reported on the development Friday, the arms deal has prompted criticism from some in the parliament who claim that the Kremlin is trying to pull Yerevan into an arms race with foe Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government purchased $1 billion worth of tanks, artillery cannons and rocket launchers from Moscow in 2013.
“Russia is selling super-modern weapons to Armenia’s enemy Azerbaijan and thus is dragging Armenia into an arms race,” Armenian opposition lawmakers Zaruhi Postanjyan said in Yerevan on Friday.
“Armenia is now forced to take a Russian loan to restore military balance in the region,” she said, Agence France-Presse reported.
Friday’s development comes against a backdrop of political turbulence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is also a former Soviet Republic.
The two nations have for years been locked in a longstanding conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian separatists seized Karabakh from Azerbaijan during the 1990s conflict that left some 30,000 dead.
Despite years of negotiations, the two nations have not signed a final peace deal. The predominantly Armenian-populated region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Agence France-Presse reported on Friday that some in Armenia see the Russian weapons buying loan as a concession after nearly two weeks of protests in the country, where the Kremlin owns some of the most prized assets including the nation’s electricity distribution firm.
Both Armenian activists and President Serzh Sarkisian have denied the rallies against a planned hike in electricity prices were anti-Russian, the news agency said. But grievances against Moscow have long been building and rippled to the surface during the rallies which started on June 19.