Armenia conducts CSTO trainings as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey sign defense memorandum

On May 24th, Armenia began conducting tactical military trainings under the name “Cobalt - 2016” in cooperation with other CSTO countries, involving “the formation of special forces” and Collective Rapid Reaction Forces, reports TACC. Several days earlier, a trilateral meeting between the Ministers of Defense of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey took place in Azerbaijani town, Qabala. Zakir Hasanov, a Colonel - General of the Ministry of Defense declared that the three countries intended to sign a trilateral defense ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ to increase the operational capacity of their armed forces. 

Political analyst Shevket Apuhan - Türksam - Turkey

Shevket Apuhan, a political analyst for the Turkish Center for International relations and Strategic Analysis, claims that the regional conflict here is obvious and that we have to clearly see the protagonists involved. On one side, we have CSTO under the patronage of Russia — including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia as an appendage. 

On the other side, we have an alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan, with Georgia as the weakest link in the triumvirate. The influence and weight of major powers such as the USA and Great Britain should also be taken into account here, but overall, this alliance poses a rather big threat to Armenian national security” said the analyst. 

Main editor of NewCaucasus, Irakli Chikhladze - Sulava, Georgia

“Actually I don’t see a regional collision in this situation. We have had many similar joint statements before, but they have never coalesced into military-political alliances. Moreover, Turkey is a member of NATO, and a lobbyist for the membership of Georgia in the Organization.” commented the main editor of the independent journal, NewsCaucasus, Irakli Chikladze - Sulava.  

Political analyst Nikolaj Silaev, Russia

Nikolay Silaev, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre of Caucasian Problems and Regional Security under the auspices of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations), would not rush to perceive the meeting of the three ministers as a creation of a military bloc between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia because the outbreak of hostilities on the borderline of Karabakh in the beginning of April did not so much change the military-political reality of the region as it showed the changes that have already taken place there. 

The key change in this question is a sudden decline of the Russian-Turkish relationship. The April collision in Karabakh showed that the mutual understanding of Russia and Turkey was an important balancing factor in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict for many years. Another key factor that had helped to balance the situation in the absence of stability between the conflicting sides was the maintenance of the ceasefire.  

“I will remind you that one of the most widespread reproaches addressed to Russia from Armenia lies in the fact that in the beginning of April, Moscow didn’t provide the same political support to its ally as Ankara did to Azerbaijan. Russia retained a moderate diplomatic position and expressed its position rather carefully. And there is some logic in that. Russia is not interested to transform South Caucasus into a battlefield of geopolitical collision with Turkey. The country wants to preserve the present situation and prevent the division into opposing alliances within the region for as long as possible.”, claims the analyst. 

“If there is no mutual understanding between Moscow and Ankara – there is no military-political balance in Karabakh – there is a threat of war”- says Nikolaj - “The difference between a new war in Karabakh (which is highly likely) and other similar conflicts within the territory of the former USSR is that in the case of its outbreak, it will be extremely hard to keep it from becoming a large-scale escalation. Both sides have saved their weapons and their venomous positions against each other for so long that a full - out war between the two would not mean a war for territory or stronger diplomatic positions - it would turn into a war of complete annihilation. 

Military expert, Jasur Sumerinli, Azerbaijan

In the opinion of the director of the Caspian Defense Studies Institute (CDSI), Jasur Sumerinli, the idea of creating actual military blocs in the South Caucasus is still not realistic. Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey possibly will be able to count on the creation of a military alliance — but for that, all three countries have to resolve a number of their ongoing military and political problems. 

Political analyst Stepan Gregoryan, Armenia 

“Since 2010, the South Caucasus entered into a system of competition with a dividing line between Azerbaijan and Turkey on one side, and Armenia and Russia on the other. Unfortunately, this tendency has gotten worse after the serious decline of the relationship between Russia and Turkey from the end of the last year”, says director of the Analytical Centre for Global and Regional Partnership and political analyst Stepan Gregorian. “However, the image is a bit different than it might appear. As the events of April have shown, Russia does not really fulfill its obligations to Armenia and openly teases the authorities of Baku. And let’s not forget the enormous supplies of Russian weapons being shipped to Azerbaijan even in the context of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

Armenians, of course, paid much attention to the meeting of the Ministers of Defense of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in Qaluba. However, Georgia will enter into close military partnership with Turkey only after its membership in NATO. Besides that, Georgia will not enter any military alliances against Armenia for a number of obvious reasons. It should also be noted that Turkey was also very careful during the initial stages of the Four Day War in April. That’s why I hope that instead of creating opposing military blocs in the region, the South Caucasian countries, having in mind the certain positive results in this year’s  meeting in Vienna, will engage in the process of negotiation and diplomacy concerning the conflict.

Background

It should be noted that Armenia and Russia are strategic partners. On an agreement signed on the 19 - 20th of August, 2010, the Armenian government gave permission to Russia to maintain a military base in the country for another 49 years. They also signed an agreement which guaranteed mutual assistance in the case of aggression from a third side against Armenia. They also signed a military - political agreement - COST. 

Since 2015, Armenia has been a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, which has lead to closer ties with Russia on a political, economic and military scale.  

Baku and Ankara also signed an Agreement on strategic partnership and mutual assistance, during a visit of the Turkish President, Abdulla Gule, to Azerbaijan in August of 2010. Based on this agreement, Turkey took on the responsibility of assuring Azerbaijan’s territorial unity and integrity should the need arise. 

The last big conflict in the region was the flare - up of the Karabakh conflict on the night of April 1st to the 2nd. On April 5th, both sides declared the cessation of military operations. The agreement on the ceasefire in the conflict zone was reached after a meeting of the General Staff of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow. 

On May 16th, a meeting in Vienna between President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of Armenia Serzh Sergsyan resulted in an agreement to maintain the Karabakh ceasefire. 

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