Armenia confirmed its participation in the latest U.S.-led military exercises held in Georgia before dropping out of them, the Georgian Defense Ministry insisted late on Thursday.
The annual “Agile Spirit” exercises began near the town of Akhaltsikhe on September 3, bringing together around 500 troops from the U.S. Marine Corps and some 1,000 soldiers from Georgia and five other countries. Both the U.S. and Georgian militaries said last week that Armenia will also take part in the ten-day exercises. A Georgian official said Yerevan “abandoned that intention a few days before their start.”
Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian acknowledged on Monday that the Armenian military planned to join the exercises. But he said that “Armenia never officially stated that it will definitely participate.”
The Armenian Defense Ministry seemingly contradicted that explanation in a statement issued later on September 4. It said a decision not to send Armenian soldiers to the “Agile Spirit 20” wargames was made “right from the beginning” because they were not deemed of “primary significance to the Armenian Armed Forces.”
The Georgian Defense Ministry countered, however, that Armenian military officials “confirmed participation of three Armenian officers in the multinational exercise” when they attended the final planning conference for the drills in July.
“The Georgian side was notified shortly before the active phase of Agile Spirit 2017 that the Armenian officers would not be able to take part in the military exercise,” the ministry’s press office said in a written statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The reason for the refusal was not explained.”
Senior representatives of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) have dismissed suggestions that Armenia dropped out of the maneuvers under pressure from Russia, its main military ally. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin criticized in July exercises frequently organized by NATO in Georgia, saying that they undermine regional security.
As recently as in the first half of August, some 30 Armenian soldiers took part in larger U.S.-led exercises that were held near Tbilisi. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the 2,800 troops participating in the “Noble Partner” drills during an August 1 trip to Georgia.
Incidentally, Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan skipped the “Noble Partner” drills but chose to participate in the “Agile Spirit” wargames.