Just weeks after participating in U.S.-led military exercises in neighboring Georgia, Armenia avoided sending troops to similar multinational wargames that began there on Sunday.
The annual “Agile Spirit” exercises taking place near the Georgian town of Akhaltsikhe involve around 500 troops from the U.S. Marine Corps and some 1,000 soldiers from Georgia, Azerbaijan and four other countries. Both the U.S. and Georgian militaries said last week that Armenia will also take part in the two-week drills.
“Armenia was due to participate in the military exercises, but unfortunately it abandoned that intention a few days before their start,” a spokesman for the Georgian Defense Ministry said on Sunday. “I don’t know what the reason for that is.” The official added that the Armenian military was due to send three medics to the drills.
Armenia’s Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian acknowledged on Monday that Yerevan planned to take part in the Akhaltsikhe drills. He insisted, however, that “Armenia never officially stated that it will definitely participate.”
“In any activity, certain revisions are always possible,” Zakarian told reporters. “You should not see anything extraordinary in that.”
Zakarian would not be drawn on reasons for the change of plans, saying only that they are not “political.” He specifically denied that Armenia dropped out of the U.S.-led drills under pressure from Russia, its key military ally.
Yerevan has long maintained very close military ties with Moscow both through bilateral arrangements and membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Nevertheless, it has deepened defense cooperation with the U.S. and other NATO member states since the early 2000s.
Some 30 Armenian soldiers took part in larger U.S.-led exercises that were held near Tbilisi as recently as in the first half of August. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the 2,800 troops participating in the drills codenamed “Noble Partner” during an August 1 trip to Georgia.
According to the U.S. military, the latest maneuvers are designed to enhance “U.S., Georgian, and regional partner interoperability and strengthen understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures.”
In July, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin criticized exercises frequently organized by NATO in Georgia, saying that they undermine regional security.
Incidentally, Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan dropped out of the “Noble Partner” drills but chose to participate in the “Agile Spirit” wargames.