The annual Defender-Europe exercises led by U.S. Army Europe and Africa began in March and will continue through June across more than 30 training areas in a dozen countries. They are involving over 28,000 troops from 26 nations, including countries such as Georgia and Ukraine keen to join NATO.
Armenia was initially also included on a list of participating states released by the U.S. military.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said on March 18 that it has asked organizers to “revise” the list because it does not plan to join the exercises. It said Armenian troops participate only in those NATO drills that simulate international peacekeeping operations and train military personnel for them.
Citing continuing media inquiries, the ministry again ruled out Armenia’s participation in Defender-Europe 21 in a statement released on Tuesday.
The move came amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over a major Russian-military buildup near eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin President Vladimir Putin last week warned Western powers backing Ukraine not to cross Russia’s “red lines”, saying Moscow would respond swiftly and harshly to any provocations.
Armenia has close military ties with Russia cemented by bilateral defense treaties and its membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Armenian government wants to deepen them after further after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is understood to be seeking stronger Russian military presence in the South Caucasus country to counter perceived security threats from NATO member Turkey, Azerbaijan’s close ally.
The Armenian military most recently participated in a NATO-led exercise in Georgia in August 2018. It declined invitations to join similar war games that were held there in September 2018 and in March 2019. Yerevan also skipped similar drills hosted by Georgia in September 2020 shortly before the outbreak of the Karabakh war.
Still, more than 150 Armenian soldiers remain involved in NATO-led peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.