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Russia Starts Naval Drills Near Azerbaijan


DAGHESTAN -- A Russian BTR-82A armored personnel carrier drives onto the shore during the military exercises known as "Centre-2019" at the range Turali on the Caspian Sea coast, September 20, 2019

Russia began naval exercises in the Caspian Sea on Friday for the second time in less than a month.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the exercises are taking place “in the central part of the Caspian Sea north of the Absheron peninsula,” which is home to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.

“A total of six warships, seven aircraft and over 400 personnel will be involved in naval maneuvers,” the ministry said in a statement cited by news agencies.

The statement said they will practice protecting “facilities of maritime economic activity” and destroying “illegal armed formations” threatening them.

It said the drills are being held as part of a yearend “check” of the combat readiness of Russia’s Caspian Flotilla. They “do not pose any threat and do not impose restrictions on economic activities of Caspian states,” added the statement.

Elements of the Caspian Flotilla already participated in wide-ranging military exercises that were held in southern Russia late last month. Those war games ended on September 26, one day before the outbreak of large-scale hostilities around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russia has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the worst fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces since the early 1990s. The fighting continued even after Moscow brokered an Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire agreement on October 10.

Russian leaders have also implicitly accused Turkey of recruiting “terrorist” fighters in Syria and Libya and sending them to fight on the side of Azerbaijan. Both Ankara and Baku deny that.

President Vladimir Putin again discussed the Karabakh conflict on Friday in a video conference with members of Russia’s Security Council. The Kremlin said they “exchanged thoughts on the current situation in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Despite its military and political alliance with Armenia, Russia has so far avoided openly supporting the Armenian side in the war. Putin said on October 7 that Moscow will fulfill its defense obligations to Yerevan. He noted at the same time that “the hostilities are not being carried out on the territory of Armenia.”

Meanwhile, a pro-government member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, visited Karabakh and met with the disputed region’s president, Arayik Harutiunian, on Friday.

In a Facebook post on his “private conversation” with the lawmaker, Vitaly Milonov, Harutiunian praised Russia’s “important role” in international efforts to stop the war and resolve the Karabakh conflict.

“We both emphasized the inadmissibility of actions undermining stability in the region, including the involvement of foreign and terrorist forces,” he wrote.

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