Russia denies Azerbaijan buys anti-aircraft missiles

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A Russian newspaper reported Thursday that ex-Soviet Azerbaijan had bought Russian anti-aircraft missile systems worth 300 million dollars (230 million euros) but Moscow denied the claim.

Quoting Russian arms industry sources, the Vedomosti daily reported that Baku had signed the deal with Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport last year to purchase two batteries of S-300 anti-aircraft systems, in the largest purchase of arms from Moscow by an ex-Soviet country.

Russian news agencies however quoted Rosoboronexport denying the sale.

"Rosoboronexport has no information on the supplies of S-300 missile systems to Azerbaijan and has no contract obligations over this," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted company spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko as saying.

Azerbaijani defence ministry spokesman Abbas Shirinov also declined to confirm the purchase, saying only: "Azerbaijan continues to strengthen its army."

Awash with cash from oil and gas exports, Azerbaijan has nearly doubled defence spending in the last two years amid rising tensions with arch-rival Armenia over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh.

The Vedomosti report quoted an unidentified Russian military official as saying the systems would not be useful in a new conflict over Karabakh. Armenia does not have the kind of attack planes or ballistic missiles that the systems would normally be used against.

The official said the purchase was most likely aimed at Azerbaijan securing itself in case of a western strike on neighbouring Iran.

Russia signalled last month it was moving to halt its controversial sale of the same S-300 systems to Iran, in a policy shift the Kremlin said was needed after fresh UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear drive.

© 2010 AFP

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