Russian pro-government lawmakers and pundits strongly condemned Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday for implying that the Armenian army’s most advanced Russian-made missiles proved useless during the recent war with Azerbaijan.
In an interview with the 1in.am news service aired late on Tuesday, Pashinian responded to former President Serzh Sarkisian’s claim that the Armenian military failed to adequately use its Iskander missiles against advancing Azerbaijani troops because of wrong government orders.
Sarkisian made the claim earlier this month as he harshly criticized Pashinian’s handling of the the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.
“Let him ask why the fired Iskander did not explode or why it exploded by, say, 10 percent,” Pashinian hit back without elaborating.
Pashinian went on to suggest that the sophisticated missile system might be outdated. Asked whether it could have indeed malfunctioned, he said: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a weapon of the 1980s.”
The remarks provoked a storm of criticism in Russia which supplied several Iskander systems to Armenia in 2015. Senior members of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, attacked Pashinian in unusually strong terms.
“The Iskander is a highly precise weapon, which has repeatedly been proved during military exercises,” said Viktor Zavarzin, the deputy chairman of a State Duma committee on defense and security.
What Pashinian said about the missile is a “complete lie,” Zavarzin told the Govorit Moskva radio station.
Another Russian lawmaker, Dmitry Sablin, mocked the Armenian premier and questioned his competence.
“A bad dancer is hampered by other things. This popular saying best describes the Armenian prime minister’s claims about the use of the Iskander in the last war and its being obsolete,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Sablin as saying.
Vladimir Solovyov, Russia’s leading political talk show host, and other pro-Kremlin commentators likewise denounced Pashinian’s remarks widely circulated by the Russian media.
Pashinian also came under fire from his political opponents at home.
“How can 10 percent of a missile explode and the remaining 90 percent not explode after hitting a target?” said Seyran Ohanian, a retired general who served as Armenia’s defense minister during the acquisition of Iskander missiles.
“I think that [Pashinian] is very far from being qualified to make judgments about them,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
But Andranik Kocharian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling My Step bloc, dismissed the criticism, saying that Pashinian’s statement must be seriously investigated. “If Mr. Pashinian’s suspicions turn out to be correct we must review everything,” he told reporters.
Asked whether the remarks could damage Russian-Armenian relations, Kocharian said that Sarkisian’s claims are more “dangerous” for Armenia’s national security.
With a firing range of up to 500 kilometers, the Iskander is known for its precision and ability to overcome modern missile defense shields. Russia prompted serious concerns from the United States and other Western powers when it deployed such missiles to its Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea in 2018.