Did Azerbaijan ‘Shoot-Down’ Armenia’s Russian-Origin Iskander Missile During Nagorno-Karabakh War?

During the Armenia-Azerbaijan war last year, Yerevan had launched at least one short-range Iskander ballistic missile at the behest of Russia, but it was shot down by Azerbaijani forces, a senior official claims.

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Relations between the two former Soviet republics had been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Upper Karabakh, an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.

The old dispute led to a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan lasting for six weeks (September 27-November 10), in which the former suffered defeat. It was reported that Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish and Israeli combat and surveillance drones played a significant role in its military success.

The war came to an end after the Azerbaijani Army seized the strategic city of Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenian), following which both countries agreed on a Russia and Turkey-brokered ceasefire.

Amid the conflict, there had been multiple reports of Armenia resorting to using the Russian-made Iskander ballistic missile against Azerbaijan.

Iskander/SS-26 Stone launch cruise missile | Пуск крылатой р… | Flickr
An Iskandar missile being launched

Produced and deployed by the Russian military, the Iskander is a road-mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) that has a range of up to 500 km.

The system, which uses a common transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and support vehicles, can fire the 9M728 (R-500, SSC-7) and 9M729 (SSC-8) cruise missiles.

Despite their reported use, officials had rubbished all claims and said that Armenia’s most advanced and expensive Russian-made weapons including the Iskander missiles, the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, and the lethal Su-30 fighter jets played a limited or no role during the six-week war.

Had Armenia, which possesses several-types of missiles including the Scud and Tochka ballistic missiles, used the Iskander, it would have theoretically been much more effective in terms of winning the conflict.

During the 2020 conflict, Armenia had fired missiles at civilians in Azerbaijani cities rather than against military targets.

Experts have repeatedly claimed that there had been evidence of Armenia using the Iskander missiles, however, the Russian Defense Ministry denied the use at all.

“All the Iskander 9K720-E missiles supplied to Armenia are safely in storage. The Iskander 9K720-E was successfully used in Syria against international terrorists and is internationally acclaimed as the best in its class of weapons. Apparently, Pashinyan (Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan) was misled by someone,” said the Russian Ministry of Defense in a statement.

However, according to a senior official, Russia had instead encouraged Armenia in using the Iskandar missiles and had also provided material support for their launch.

It is said that Moscow took the decision to compel Azerbaijan, which was involved in swiftly capturing territory, to give the ceasefire a chance.

“An Iskander ballistic missile was launched by Yerevan directly into the capital days before the ceasefire. It was concerning for Azerbaijani officials. But a missile defense system operated by the Azerbaijani military, an Israeli-made Barak-8, shot it down,”

“Further use of these missiles could really escalate the situation on the ground. And I think, among other things, it convinced the Azerbaijani leadership to go for a ceasefire,” said the official.

The fact was confirmed by a former Armenian official, who took part in the 2020 war. Colonel-General Movses Hakobyan, who headed the defense ministry’s military control service, said that the missile was indeed used against Azerbaijan.

“[It] was used during the war though I will not say where. [Russia also delivered military supplies to Yerevan during the war] as much as their conscience allowed,” said Hakobyan.

With Azerbaijan possessing an operational land-based version of Barak 8-system with 12 launchers and 75 surface-to-air missiles, there is a strong possibility of these being used to strike down the Iskander missiles.

According to video footage that appeared on social media sometime before the declared ceasefire on November 09, 2020, the Iskandar missile could be seen being launched by Armenia.

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