Azerbaijan video raises concerns over arms sales

DANA artillery piece, photo: The Joint Multinational Training Command Public Affairs Office from Grafenwoehr, Germany, CC BY 2.0

How did Czech hardware end up in an Azerbaijan army promo despite an embargo? Critics say more attention must be paid to who the Czechs sell arms to.

DANA artillery piece,  photo: The Joint Multinational Training Command Public Affairs Office from Grafenwoehr,  Germany,  CC BY 2.0
The newspaper Hospodářské noviny reported this week that Czech-made military hardware – specifically a DANA artillery piece and an RM-70 rocket launcher– had been spotted in a promotional video produced by the army in Azerbaijan.

However, the Czech Republic is one of several EU states that refuses to sell arms to the South Caucasus state in light of tensions between it and neighbouring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Hospodářské noviny reported that Czech ministries and the country’s intelligence services were investigating how the equipment got to Azerbaijan.

Irena Valentová is a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which along with the departments of the interior and defence has to green light arms exports proposals from the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

“In recent years, the Czech Republic has not issued any licenses to export lethal military materials to Azerbaijan. What’s more, we have refused to grant licenses for the export of modernised howitzers, and we informed partner EU countries of that decision. The Czech Republic did agree to the export of special Tatra chassis for final use in Azerbaijan, as they did not constitute lethal materials.”

The hardware seen in the Azerbaijan army video appears likely to have been acquired on the black market.

Martin Balcar of the Prague branch of Amnesty International says the government could curb such illicit sales if it were more stringent regarding the states to which it does sell arms.

Martin Balcar,  photo: archive of Martin Balcar
“Long-term the Czech Republic has been exporting up to half of its arms to countries that have zero or very poor regimens as regards controls or level of democracy. Our benchmark is an independent Freedom House index that the Czech state also uses. It really is half of all weapons, so in the last year about CZK 8 billion in arms went to such repressive regimes.”

In Mr. Balcar’s view many of the Czech Republic’s allies could also do more to monitor where their arms exports end up.

“We greatly appreciate the Netherlands, who have barred arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The Swedes have done the same thing. And while we’re on the subject of Saudi Arabia, it has a huge number of arms import contracts with, for instance, the US, but also with many EU states, including the Czech Republic. We think there’s a very high chance that arms sold to Saudi Arabia can turn up later in other countries.”