The Armenian military said on Tuesday that it will closely watch joint Turkish-Azerbaijani war games that will start on Wednesday two weeks after deadly fighting on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
“Armenia’s Defense Ministry and Armed Forces will be very attentively monitoring the course of and trends in joint Azerbaijani-Turkish military exercises scheduled for July 29 to August 10,” the ministry spokeswoman, Shushan Stepanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan told the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, Sergei Kopyrkin, later in the day that Armenian army units as well as a Russian-Armenian military contingent are “continuing to constantly monitor and analyze” Turkish-Azerbaijani military activities “with all reconnaissance means” at their disposal. They remain “prepared for any development of the situation,” Tonoyan said, according to his press office.
The exercises will reportedly involve heavy artillery, warplanes and helicopter gunships and take place in various parts of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani and Turkish militaries have not specified the number of participating troops.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Monday that 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 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 Armenian-Azerbaijani border and kick-start talks on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
At least 12 Azerbaijani servicemen, including a general, and five Armenian soldiers were killed during several days of heavy fighting that broke out at a western section of the volatile frontier on July 12.
Turkey has blamed Armenia for the flare-up and vowed to boost its military and diplomatic support for Azerbaijan. Yerevan has responded by accusing Ankara of trying to destabilize the region.
Hours after the announcement of the Turkish-Azerbaijani exercises, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the Armenian-Azerbaijani border clashes. According to the Kremlin, Putin “stressed the importance of preventing any steps that could cause an escalation in tensions” in the Karabakh conflict zone.
Arkady Dubnov, an independent Russian political analyst, said on Tuesday that Russia continues to regard the region as its geopolitical backyard and would therefore not tolerate Turkish military intervention in the long-running conflict.
“Erdogan certainly realizes that this would be simply unacceptable to Moscow,” Dubnov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Dubnov suggested that Erdogan assured Putin on Monday that the upcoming exercises are not a prelude to Turkish military presence in Azerbaijan and will not degenerate into a Turkish-Azerbaijani offensive against Armenia. The war games are first and foremost a publicity stunt designed to cement Erdogan’s self-image as “the supreme Islamic leader of the world,” speculated the pundit.
Russia is allied to Armenia and has thousands of troops stationed in the South Caucasus state. The current and former Armenian governments have regarded the Russian military presence as a vital safeguard against possible Turkish aggression.
Turkey refused to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia at the start of the 1991-1994 war in Karabakh. Erdogan and his predecessors have made the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a Karabakh settlement sought by Baku. Yerevan has always rejected this precondition.