Russia's prime minister has defended Moscow's policy of selling arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose military forces have faced off in a sharp escalation of fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking in an interview broadcast Saturday, Dmitry Medvedev said if Russia stopped selling arms, other suppliers would soon step in and this could destroy the balance of forces in the Caucasus region.

Both Azerbaijani and Armenian forces this month have used artillery, tanks and other weapons on a scale not seen since a separatist war ended in 1994. The war left Karabakh, officially part of Azerbaijan, under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military.

The Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan have angered many in Armenia, which has close security and economic ties to Russia.