Citing “unprecedented” security threats emanating from neighboring Turkey, Armenia on Wednesday banned Turkish officers from inspecting Armenian military bases and verifying Yerevan’s compliance with an international arms control treaty.
It announced the decision as Turkey and Azerbaijan began joint military exercises in the wake of deadly hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which heightened tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
Signed in 1990 and revised in 1999, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) places specific limits on the deployment of troops and heavy weapons from the Atlantic coast to Russia's Ural mountains. Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed it after gaining independence.
Signatories to the treaty are allowed to inspect each other’s compliance with the arms ceilings through random visits to practically any military base. Military inspectors from Turkey and other NATO member states have regularly visited Armenia since the mid-1990s. The Armenian Defense Ministry had first sent a group of CFE inspectors to eastern Turkey in March 2010.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said it informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Wednesday that Yerevan has decided to “suspend” Turkish inspections of its armed forces.
In a statement, the ministry attributed the move to Turkey’s “unilateral support to Azerbaijan” and “unprecedented threats against Armenia” voiced following the border clashes that broke out on July 12. It also pointed to the Turkish-Azerbaijani war games, saying that they “further aggravate the situation” in the Karabakh conflict zone.
“Any [further] military inspection conducted on the territory of Armenia by Turkey … would adversely impact Armenia’s security interests and may jeopardize the security of its population,” read the statement. It indicated that weapons inspectors from other OSCE member states will be allowed to continue to visit Armenia.
Turkey has blamed Armenia for the border clashes and vowed to boost its military and diplomatic support for Azerbaijan. Yerevan has responded by accusing Ankara of trying to destabilize the region.
The Armenian military said on Tuesday that it will be closely monitoring the Turkish-Azerbaijani drills which will be held in various parts of Azerbaijan for nearly two weeks. Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said Armenian army units as well as Russian troops stationed in Armenia will use “all reconnaissance means” at their disposal for this purpose.
Armenia and Turkey have carried out mutual on-site arms inspections despite not having diplomatic relations and an open border. Neither country has accused the other of violating the CFE.
By contrast, the Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries have never inspected each other in line with a gentlemen’s agreement dating back to the 1990s. Yerevan and Baku have long traded accusations of exceeding arms quotas set by the Cold War-era treaty.