On May 16 Azerbaijan kicked off large-scale war games after its troops encroached on Armenian territory almost a week ago. This is the third series of Azerbaijani war games since last August, the first having preceded the Azerbaijani-Turkish attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by only a month and a half.
The current drills, according to the nation’s Defense Ministry, consist of 15,000 troops, as many as 300 tanks and other armored vehicles, up to 400 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launching systems, mortars, anti-tank weapons and fifty military aircraft and drones.
Only two months ago Azerbaijan conducted another series of war games with 10,000 troops, 100 tanks and other armored vehicles, rocket and artillery installations, multiple rocket systems, mortars and thirty military aircraft and drones.
The current ones, then, are the most extensive since Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh last September in what developed into a lopsided 44-day war. Preceding the war Azerbaijan and Turkey – the two nations refer to themselves as “one nation, two states” – held massive war games throughout Azerbaijan, on both sides of Armenia (Nakhchivan and the main body of Azerbaijan), with the participation of an estimated 11,000 Turkish troops. The exercise began on July 29 and ended on August 10. Seven weeks later Nagorno-Karabakh was invaded.
Given the intrusion of Azerbaijani troops this month into Armenia itself, where they remain, there is every reason to fear a new act of aggression by Baku and its Turkish sponsor, NATO’s second most powerful member.
If tone reveals intent, the title of an article on the war games in the Azerbaijani press on May 17 should clarify the nation’s objectives in holding them. Trend had this headline: Azerbaijani army exercises to be message to revanchist forces in Armenia: expert. It wasn’t Armenia which launched a war last autumn to reclaim land ostensibly seized by others thirty years earlier; not that nation which sought to avenge itself by military means. Avenge = revenge = revanche.
The military expert cited, Adalat Verdiyev, left little doubt as to Azerbaijani motives and goals in saying:
“The exercises are one of the important factors for increasing the combat readiness of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. The exercises are aimed at making use of the combat experience gained in the recent war to achieve a higher level in the implementation of coordinated operations in the conditions of joint activities of missile-artillery, ground forces and special forces. “
As the same time troops in Azerbaijan’s western enclave of Nakhchivan are holding exercises. The AZERTAC news agency said of the drills: “During the exercises, formations and units involved in practical activities have been put on alert and withdrawn to the destination areas according to combat training tasks.”
The ongoing war games occur six days after Azerbaijani troops illegally entered the Syunik province in southern Armenia and have refused to depart. An Armenian Iranian expert, Vardan Voskanyan, recently warned that the current exercises are preparations for war. Stating the obvious, he added:
“Have those who talk about making peace with the enemy asked themselves whether Baku wants that peace? In fact, the enemy is not preparing for peace, but for war, otherwise there would be no need to hold regular military exercises of such intensity.”
Armenian Acting Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan spoke to Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Stanislav Zas on the phone on May 17 for the second time and warned of dire consequences if Azerbaijan’s aggressive moves were not halted.
Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held an emergency meeting of the Security Council on May 16, reporting that tensions were intensifying near part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
It’s also confirmed that Acting Foreign Minister Ara Aivazian will participate in a foreign ministers session of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on May 19. On May 13 Aivazian and the acting defense minister both spoke with the CSTO as well, with the second warning that Azerbaijan’s aggressive actions not only pose a threat to Armenia but also present “a serious threat to regional security and stability.”
As was to be expected, although the CSTO charter, specifically its Article 2*, obligates members to provide assistance to a fellow member under attack, neither Russia nor the other members (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) have expressed any solidarity with Armenia. Just as Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the Azerbaijani war games in March with “Azerbaijani military exercises do not pose risks to stability and security in the region,” so now Russian officials seem blissfully unconcerned about the fate of their nation’s CSTO partner, with Zakharova’s boss Sergey Lavrov recently saying, “There is no reason to exaggerate emotions over the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.”
And just as last year’s Azerbaijani-Turkish onslaught against Nagorno-Karabakh engendered no real opposition from CSTO members, and no real outcry anywhere in the world, so this time it’s to be feared that Azerbaijani aggression will be tolerated, encouraging yet further attacks not on Nagorno-Karabakh alone but potentially against other disputed territories in former Soviet states.
*The Member States shall consult with each other on all important issues of the international security affecting their interests, and coordinate positions on these issues.
In case of menace to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of one or several Member States or menace to international peace and safety of the Member States shall immediately launch the mechanism of joint consultations for the purpose of their positions coordination, develop and take measures for assistance to such Member States for the purpose of elimination of the arisen menace.
Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.