The armed forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey will start joint exercises on Wednesday two weeks after deadly hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which led Ankara to promise more military assistance to Baku.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the “large-scale” exercises will involve warplanes and artillery and air-defense systems. It did not specify the number of soldiers that will take part in them.
A ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies said ground forces of the two states will simulate joint operations in Baku and Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave from August 1-5. It said separate drills involving the Turkish and Azerbaijani air forces will be held in these and three other locations from July 29 through August 10.
The ministry also said that the war games will take place in accordance with a Turkish-Azerbaijani defense treaty and an annual plan of bilateral military cooperation. It did not link them with the July 12 outbreak of heavy fighting at a western section of Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia which lasted for several days and left at least 17 soldiers dead.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the drills. A ministry spokeswoman said they are part of Baku’s “provocative actions” aimed at obstructing international mediators’ efforts to de-escalate the situation at the border and kick-start Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
Turkey has blamed Armenia for the flare-up and reaffirmed its full support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Yerevan has decried the Turkish reaction, accusing Ankara of trying to destabilize the region, undercutting international efforts to resolve the conflict and posing a serious security threat to Armenia.
Immediately after the border clashes, a high-level Azerbaijani army delegation flew to Ankara for talks with Turkey’s top military and defense industry officials. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told it that the Armenians “will certainly pay for what they have done” to his country’s main regional ally. Another Turkish official expressed readiness to supply Turkish-made military drones and missiles to the Azerbaijani army.
Such statements fuelled speculation about a direct Turkish intervention in the Karabakh conflict. Successive Armenian governments have relied on a military alliance with Russia and, in particular, the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia to prevent such a scenario. The base has up to 5,000 soldiers mostly deployed along the closed Armenian-Turkish border.
Analysts believe Moscow would strongly oppose Turkish military presence in a region regarded by it as a zone of Russian geopolitical influence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Ankara to exercise restraint in its reaction to the upsurge in Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions when he spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone on July 23.
The Turkish and Azerbaijani militaries have held joint exercises on an annual basis for the last several years. They will apparently combine ground troop maneuvers with air force drills for the first time.
Russian-Armenian exercises are also held regularly. A military official in Yerevan said last week that an Armenian army regiment and the Russian troops in Armenia will take part in Russia’s Caucasus-2020 war games scheduled for September.
In preparation for these drills, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered on July 17 a snap "combat readiness check" of some 150,000 troops deployed in Russia’s southern and western military districts bordering. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov telephoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoygu the following day to discuss the military event. Shoygu reportedly assured him that it is not connected with the latest escalation in the Karabakh conflict zone.