In preparation for Independence Day festivities on Sept. 21, Armenia paraded powerful new weapons around its capital city, Yerevan. Celebrating 25 years of independence, the country showed off its new Iskander ballistic missile system from Sept. 16. According to Russian military officials, Moscow recently sold the Iskander system to Armenia as part of a $200 million loan to the country. Armenia is the first nation apart from Russia to hold this type of missile in its arsenal.
There are concerns that arming Armenia could inflame the standing conflict between it and Azerbaijan. Russia already maintains an Iskander battery at its base in the Armenian city of Gyumri. But now that the system is officially under Armenian control, the government in Yerevan could choose to use it differently. The advanced missile system will inevitably shape the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has been strengthening its military capabilities, and Yerevan is worried that it could bomb strategic cities in Armenia and the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The fears are not baseless. In April, Azerbaijan threatened to bomb Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. The presence of the powerful Iskander system may deter Baku from making such a brazen move. Armenian media sources have speculated that the Iskander has long been held by the country, partly explaining why Azerbaijan did not follow through on its threats in April. Regardless, the Iskander deal is a prime example of how Russia is working to balance the military arsenal of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the hopes of incentivizing balanced military deterrence rather than a war.