President Serzh Sarkisian visited Armenian frontline positions near Nagorno-Karabakh and discussed the tense situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” with the disputed territory’s top military commanders on Monday.
Photographs released by Sarkisian’s press office late in the evening showed him walking through trenches, inspecting army fortifications and shaking hands with soldiers at an undisclosed section of the heavily fortified frontline. Sarkisian was accompanied by Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).
A separate statement by the office said the Armenian leader “familiarized himself with the combat readiness of the armed forces on the spot.” He also monitored fresh exercises held by the NKR Defense Army before holding a meeting with the top army brass, according to the statement. No details of that meeting were reported.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry on Tuesday downplayed the exercises monitored by Sarkisian. “There is no reason to be worried,” a ministry spokesman, Teymur Abdullayev, told the Trend news agency. “One day they [the Armenians] will not be able to set foot on Karabakh soil.”
The Armenian and Karabakh militaries ended on October 13 more large-scale war games involving thousands of army reservists. They simulated, among other things, missiles strikes on oil installations and other strategic targets in Azerbaijan.
The two-week drills highlighted the growing risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Sarkisian, who commanded Karabakh Armenian forces during the first war, claimed earlier this month that the Azerbaijani side is “getting prepared for resuming military hostilities and settling the conflict by military means.” He pointed to “a dangerous accumulation of armaments in Azerbaijan.”
Over the past decade, Baku has spent billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues on a military buildup which it hopes will eventually enable it to regain control over Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.