Swedish fighters for Armenia?

Analytics | Abbas Zeynalli | 26-11-2018, 15:15

On October 30, 2018, Russian information agency Regnum published an article concerning Sweden’s proposal to the Armenian Ministry of Defence to purchase JAS 39 Gripen fighters manufactured by SAAB. It is also mentioned in the article that this proposal was made after the visit of U.S. presidential adviser John Bolton to Yerevan, who spoke about the possibility of supplying arms to Armenia and Azerbaijan, in order to reduce Russian influence in the region. It remains interesting to know though: why a country that stayed neutral in the World War II proposed fighter jets to Armenia, which has a decades-long conflict with Azerbaijan? 

SAAB is a Swedish company whose products range from defense to civil security. As part of Gripen fighter system, JAS 39 Gripen is built with the purpose of ensuring interoperability with NATO forces and designed to meet the demands of existing and future threats, while simultaneously meeting strict requirements for flight safety, reliability, training efficiency and low operating costs. Since 1987, approximately 261 fighter jets have been built. Swedish, South African, Hungarian and Czech Air Forces are mentioned as primary users, and countries like Canada, Switzerland, Brazil and Poland are potential candidates for JAS 39. The cost per one fighter differs between 30 to 60 million U.S. dollars, depending on the features. 

JAS-39 Gripen fighter

Analysis of the users and potential buyers of this aircraft shows a noticeable lack of the countries in the state of conflict among them. At the same time, after the involvement in Napoleonic Wars and excessive territorial losses, Sweden chose to stay neutral in armed conflicts since the early 19th century. The Swedish Government’s skillful maneuvering between German demands and an emotionally aroused Swedish public  helped it to succeed in keeping neutral during the WWII. Even after the accession to the European Union in 1995 and with the strong links NATO, Sweden still considered as a neutral state. So what was the reason behind this proposal? 

In October, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton visited three states of South Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia – with the main idea of Washington’s efforts to isolate Iran. After his talks with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, Bolton said that “the surest way to reduce an excessive outside influence in Armenia,” referencing to Russia as Armenia’s main military and political ally to RFE/RL’s Armenian service . When talking about the possible arms deal with the U.S., he put it the following way: “As I said to the prime minister, if it’s a question of buying Russian military equipment versus buying U.S. military equipment, we’d prefer the latter. We think our equipment is better than the Russians’ anyway. So we want to look at that. And I think it increases Armenia’s options when it’s not entirely dependent on one major power”. 

The Kremlin issued a statement about Bolton’s speech which claims: “Naturally, he did not forget to advertise U.S. weapons that Armenia should buy instead of Russian weapons”, adding: “It would be good if John Bolton thinks over the meaning of his own words.” As Bolton mentioned in the interview: “We have restrictions Congress has imposed on the United States in terms of [weapons] sales to Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the conflict, but there are exceptions to that”. Although U.S. could not sell its weaponry to Armenia, it is possible that in order to reduce Russian dependence, and also as the main supplier of NATO, the Swedish company made an offer to Armenia. This could be one conclusive explanation for this action.

After the proposal, on November 12, 2018, Armenian Minister of Defence Davit Tonoyan did not deny the fact, adding: “There is no decision regarding Gripen at the moment”... There is another offer on the table from another partner which is being very seriously considered, and a decision will be made very soon regarding acquisitions.”  By the another offer he was taking into account which Armenia signed with Russia a deal on the delivery of at least 12 SU-30SMs in 2012. Although the prices range between 22-37 million U.S. dollars – compared with 30-60 million USD for JAS 39 Gripen – the Armenian side could not fulfill its role because of “financial difficulties”. This proposal came into agenda again when Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan took a photo of himself with a Russian SU-30SM in June. 

After finding answer to ‘what is behind this action?’, it remains a matter of debate weather Armenia will purchase a costlier aircraft or not. Also, if Armenia by sidelining a longtime ally, Russia, and turning to the West, what will be the consequences of this action? The true size of the rupture between Moscow and Yerevan should get more visible in the upcoming months. 

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Abbas Zeynalli

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