Russia has reportedly assured Azerbaijan that a snap "combat readiness check" of Russian troops ordered by President Vladimir Putin is not connected with the latest hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu announced the start of the "check" on Friday, saying that it will test the readiness of Russian armed forces for the Caucasus-2020 military exercises scheduled for September. He said it involves 150,000 personnel and hundreds of aircraft and naval vessels deployed in Russia’s southern and western military districts bordering Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov telephoned Shoygu on Saturday to discuss this military event and other issues of mutual interest.
“The Russian defense minister emphasized that this event was planned and is not connected in any way with the current situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border,” it quoted an unnamed “military-diplomatic source” as saying.
The “check” began as Putin chaired a session of Russia’s Security Council that discussed deadly clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that broke out on July 12 and left at least 16 soldiers dead. According to the Kremlin, Putin and other top Russian officials expressed “deep concern” over the fighting and stressed the “urgent need” to stop it.
The United States, the European Union as well as Iran have also urged Baku and Yerevan to show restraint without holding either side responsible for the escalation.
By contrast, Turkey, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, has blamed the Armenian side and promised military aid to Baku, raising the prospect of a more direct Turkish involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday that the Armenians will “certainly pay for what they have done” to Azerbaijan.
As part of its military alliance with Russia, Armenia hosts about 5,000 Russian troops mostly stationed along the South Caucasus state’s closed border with Turkey. The Russian military base headquartered in the Armenian city of Gyumri is technically part of Russia’s Southern Military District.
Commenting on the “check” ordered by Putin, an Armenian military spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian said: “Russia is a big country with a powerful military and it may often organize such activities. I cannot comment on their connection with political or other events.”
Hovannisian also told reporters that Russian troops stationed in Armenia as well as an Armenian army regiment will take part in Russia’s upcoming Caucasus-2020 war games.