Former Armenian PM says his country has nuclear weapons

Hrant Bagratyan [Media Center, Armenia]

Hrant Bagratyan, a former prime minister of Armenia, has claimed that his country has nuclear weaponry. The statement raises concern, as Armenia is technically at war with Azerbaijan, over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Nuclear weapons are already created in Armenia,” Bagratyan said at a press conference on 29 April at the Armenian Media Center, an NGO, adding that Armenia has such potential.

“I say it as a note to Azerbaijan,” Bagratyan said.

The Media Center tried to clarify if we have that weapon, or Armenia has that potential, Bagratyan said. “I said what I said,” he added.

The ex-premier claimed that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh would continue, as Azerbaijan has substantial resources, and can sustain its efforts well into the future.

Bagratyan also spoke also about Armenia recognising the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. A bill is reported to be in preparation in Yerevan, although it is clear that such a move would change nothing, and possibly make the situation worse.

Azerbaijan rejects the vote, accusing Armenia of trying to derail international peace talks.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a 4-day war in early April, which has been dubbed the April Fool’s War. The conflict was stopped mainly by Russian diplomacy, but skirmishes have persisted since.

Russia styles itself lead mediator in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Russia staked out its claim yesterday (7 April) to be the lead player in brokering a settlement to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a role it hopes will enhance its clout in a region where it competes for influence with Washington.

Bagratyan said he believes that it is illogical to think that Azerbaijan will launch a large-scale war after the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. “Armenia has no other option than to participate in this war and to win,” he said.

Bagratyan was the prime minister of Armenia from 2 February 1993 until 4 November 1996. He was a member of the Pan-Armenian National Movement party (of liberal and anti-communist tendency). He has doctorate in economics, and is the author of seven books.

As Prime Minister, Bagratyan had a key role in the organization of his country’s military operations in Nagorno Karabakh, in the 1993-1994 war with Azerbaijan. The ceasefire, on 12 May 1994, was secured during his tenure.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, director of international communications at Israel Democracy Institute, a leading Israeli think tank, wrote in the The Jerusalem Post on Sunday (8 May) that Bagrathyan’s statements should not be taken lightly.

Smuggling of nuclear material

Hoffman contends that on 18 April, just days before Bagratyan’s statements, the Georgian State Security Service arrested three Armenian nationals and three citizens of Georgia for attempting to illegally sell roughly $200 million of weapons-grade uranium 238.

“This recent arrest was not the first. Arrests of Armenians who have crossed into neighbouring Georgia have increased in the past two years, according to an article published last month by The World Post (a partner publication of The Huffington Post), causing alarm among nuclear non-proliferation experts in the US and elsewhere. Landlocked Armenians use Georgia for access to the Black Sea ports, which could be used to traffic nuclear material to the Middle East or anywhere else,” Hoffman writes.

She cites reports of Armenians arrested for attempting to smuggle and sell nuclear materials in Georgia.

“What’s more is that we don’t know from exactly where these Armenians are getting the nuclear materials. Until now, it was assumed that Armenia possesses no nuclear weapons”, she wrote.

Hofmann says that it is a known fact that Armenia has a nuclear power plant at Metsamor, which was built in 1970, ceased operations in 1988 and then resumed work in 1995.

She further quotes Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu, vice president of the Turkish Analytical Center for Strategic Outlook, who said that according to ecologists, seismic activity in this area makes operations at Metsamor nuclear power plant extremely dangerous.

But Hoffmann  adds that there is no evidence the material came from there. According to Hoffman, multiple reports, although unconfirmed, indicate that it might have come from Novosibirk, in Siberia.

“Armenia’s claim of a nuclear weapon – if one can constitute Bagratyan’s statements as such – will create legal and political problems for the country. Azerbaijan and Turkey will both need to deal with the legal and security ramifications of this statement immediately,” Hoffman argues.

Alexander Murinson, a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center and Bar Ilan University, wrote in The Washington Times several days ago that Georgian authorities reported the arrest of an elderly Georgian man and several Armenian nationals — alarmingly suspected of being current or former members of the Armenian Security Service — who were attempting to smuggle and illegally sell some $200 million worth of nuclear-grade materials.

“The highly radioactive U-238 can be used to produce a myriad of deadly and destructive apparatuses, not the least of which is a dreaded “dirty bomb,” Mirinson writes.

“Some of this material entered Georgia through the Russia-annexed enclave of South Ossetia and was traced back to Russian facilities. This adds much credence to complaints by Georgia and Azerbaijan that their territories under separatist control, such as Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, are being used for all manner of illegal smuggling from nuclear material to arms to narcotics,” Murinson wrote.

“Armenia is not a threat for the region of the world, instead, Azerbaijan and Turkey are threats of the region”, the Vice president of the Parliament of Armenia Eduard Sharmazanov stated on 10 May.

He said that statement by opposition MP Bagratyan had caused “much turbulence in Azerbaijan”.

“What Mr. Bagratyan said is his personal viewpoint, while the position of the Armenian authorities and the political elite is clear: we use the nuclear station for peaceful purposes for producing electricity”, Sharmazanov said.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said she was not aware of the statements and repeated that the EU’s position is against nuclear proliferation.

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