Armenia, Azerbaijan, Start Drills As Border Tension Mounts
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are conducting large-scale military exercises as tension along the border between the two nemeses has spiked in recent days.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry announced on September 6 that they were mobilizing 65,000 troops -- which would represent nearly the entire armed forces -- to test their readiness. The exercises also included 700 armored vehicles, 500 rockets and artillery units, 40 airplanes and 50 helicopters, and 20 naval ships, the MoD said. The exercises had not been previously announced and the MoD did not give further explanation of why they were being held.
That drill starts as Armenia is holding unprecedented exercises of its own. That exercise, called Shant 2015, is less military and more political, simulating how various branches of the government would respond in case of war.
Participants included a working group from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led political-military bloc. One of the tasks before the Armenian foreign ministry in the drill, Armenian media reported, was "what to do if one of the CSTO partners (but not Russia) does not fulfill its commitments?” Armenia's leadership has criticized its Turkic nominal allies in the CSTO, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for supporting Azerbaijan's side in the dispute over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
The dueling exercises come as both sides have been reporting increased ceasefire violations, resulting in injuries to civilians in border villages, by the other. The details of the reports are of course contradictory, and subject to the fog of war, but it seems indisputable that there has been an increase in tension. "There are credible reports both sides have used mortars recently resulting in civilian casualties. Escalation is not the answer," said James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group trying to resolve the conflict, in a tweet September 6.
Yerevan took pains to emphasize that the drill was not related to the current violence on the border. “The exercise was approved by the Armenian President back in November 2014," said Movses Hakobyan, deputy chief of staff of Armenia's armed forces. "This is the first time such a large-scale exercise with the involvement of all ministries of the republic is held. It’s yet too early to evaluate their work but the results will be summed up in the future."
Nevertheless, the exercise added to the tension in border areas, noted an analysis on commonspace.eu: "Fact and fiction blended together especially in areas in Tavoush district where people were reportedly confused as to what was happening as part of an exercise and what was happening in fact." With the mobilization of Azerbaijan's armed forces, that confusion could likely spread.