Armenian public is actively discussing another round of high-profile arrests among the members of the army elite. This time the former Defense Minister David Tonoyan found himself behind the bars. He’s the same Tonoyan who promised the citizens of Armenia ‘a new war for new territories’ back in 2019. He left his post after signing the trilateral November 10, 2020 surrender agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. He did not attract much attention to himself, nor did he become an oppositionist. Then why was he arrested then?
Perhaps, you can think that the arrest of Tonoyan was part of the campaign to prevent a military mutiny or ‘conspiracy of generals’ in Armenia. But knowledgeable people remind that David Tonoyan has no military education at all. His arrest follows a series of completely different processes. Armenia has already reported this officially. “David Tonoyan was detained and charged for grand larceny ($4.5 million), committing falsifications and socially dangerous actions”, the Investigation Department of the National Security Service of Armenia reported.
Remarkably, David Tonoyan was arrested together with David Galstyan, the local lord of war, also known as Patron Davo. And this means a completely different interpretation of the incident.
National characteristics of lords of war
Ninety-nine percent of the Armenian arsenal is Russian weapons. In addition, as a member of the CSTO, Armenia could and can to purchase Russian weapons at discounted prices, often with Russian money provided as targeted loans.
Rumours about the re-sale of Russian weapons to other parties beyond Armenia at world prices were circling around in Armenia even under the Pashinyan rule. Mikael Minasyan, the former Armenian ambassador to the Holy See and Serzh Sargsyan's son-in-law, made such claims in public. According to him, “As soon as Nikol Pashinyan found out that the former authorities agreed with Russia, which he did not like at first, but then fell in maniacal love with Russia on this issue (purchase of weapons, R+), his new friend, David Galstyan, a.k.a Patron David, instantly came up with a scheme based on the following. Pashinyan authorised Galstyan through the Ministry of Defense to order, say, 100 units of weapons on behalf of the Republic of Armenia. Then the Republic of Armenia buys through Galstyan’s offshore company, say, 60 of these 100 units. He then pays for these 60 weapons and brings them to Armenia. Everything is okay with the documents, with a single exception: David Galstyan, who had already agreed with the third countries, sends the remaining 40 units that had been originally ordered but not paid for directly from Russia to these third countries. For example, to the United Arab Emirates. From there, the weapons end up in a fourth country. All experts know that one can track the entire shipment history of weapons by their serial numbers. When the weapons were used in the fourth country, Russia learned that the weapons sold to Armenia ended up in the fourth country.” Minasyan shared his video with this story at the end of May 2020. This caused a loud scandal, of course. David Galstyan was banned from entering Russia for ten years, while Armenia's reputation in Russia was severely undermined.
In mid-November 2020, when the illegal Armenian ‘migrants’ hastily left the districts of Azerbaijan previously occupied by Armenia, taking with them the toilets, cutting down gardens and burning the houses, the former officer of the Military Police Vardan Ghukasyan, also known as Dog, posted his portion of dirt on Facebook, which immediately went viral through many Armenian media outlets. In particular, the leak included a contract between the Minister of Defense of Armenia David Tonoyan and David Galstyan on the creation of the offshore company Mosston Engineering. According to the document, the Defense Ministry ‘lent’ the company $3.5 million. Another document granted the company with exclusive rights to purchase military equipment and ammunition on behalf of the Armenian Defense Ministry. It is reported that “Mosston Engineering was engaged in money laundering, acquiring faulty and decommissioned equipment from the former post-Soviet and other countries, then sold it at a price of new equipment. Thus, in recent years, they purchased defective Osa air defense systems of the 1960s for $27 million and M55 devices manufactured in the 1950s from Jordan. Decommissioned Soviet shells from Kazakhstan have been paid $30 million. The list goes on and on. The corruption scheme worked well. All inquiries to the Ministry of Defense, demanding clarification were answered simply as “all purchases of the Ministry of Defense are a state secret”.
Weapon supermarket with Armenian specifics
Armenia has been regularly involved in suspicious arms deals. In 2011, a mysterious Il-76 aircraft, which left Benghazi, Libya with a stopover in Chisinau, landed in Yerevan with a load of second-hand weapons. The event caused yet another scandal in Armenia.
But perhaps the most resonant scandal took place in the spring of 2020. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) prohibited the Armenian Civil Aviation Committee the licensing of two airlines - Armenia Aircompany and Atlantis European Airlines operating flights to the EU. These are the same airlines that had been actively involved in the transportation of weapons from Russia to Armenia disguised as humanitarian aid during the 44-day war. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan later commented on the reasons behind this decision: “The aircraft registered in Armenia were involved in illegal activities in African countries, including the sales of arms, etc. This was due to the allegedly corrupt Armenian officials. These facts have been hidden for many years.” It is unlikely that Pashinyan misled the audience. In 2004, an aircraft of the Armenian airline Dvin was detained in Harare, Zimbabwe while trying to deliver mercenaries and weapons for a coup in Equatorial Guinea.
But what is going on in Armenia now? What is the reason behind David Tonoyan’s arrest? Did the former minister the lord of war Galstyan turn the arms trade into a personal business? Or…
After all, thirst for profit, shadow payback schemes and theft are a common practice. Still, there are many factors hinting at obvious political motives behind the arrests of David Tonoyan and David Galstyan. Sure thing, the arms business is a profitable one, but one needs to know what and whom to sell, particularly to resell the stuff, given that contracts often officially prohibit the re-export of weapons.
For obvious reasons, they try not to voice this aspect of the Armenian arms trade. But there is no doubt that the tandem of David Tonoyan and David Galstyan showed excessive independence in this matter. That is, he launched the trade and resale of Russian weapons without letting Russia know of his affair.
It is likely that the arrest of David Tonoyan is also a message to Moscow: the Armenian shop that illegally sells Russian weapons is closed, the guilty have been punished, this will not happen again. Armenia cannot afford to persist in this matter: it needs to rebuild its army, and it is impossible even theoretically to do this without preferential supplies of weapons from the Russian Federation.
Another question is if the arrest of David Tonoyan is enough to really shut the business down?