Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey have reiterated their intention to expand military cooperation, including holding joint military exercises aimed at protecting oil and gas pipelines. But the promises of further cooperation belie the stalled development of this would-be military bloc on Russia's southern flank.
The defense ministers of the three countries met Sunday in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and afterwards they announced a variety of cooperation measures including joint military exercises, cooperation on cyber security, and "further improvement of trilateral exercises on the protection of oil and gas pipelines," in the words of Azerbaijan Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. While some of this already has been going on, Hasanov added that the three sides are preparing a memorandum to "to enter a new stage" of the cooperation. Hasanov's Georgian counterpart, Tinatin Khidasheli, said Georgia would host the new joint exercises next year.
This nascent alliance was formalized in 2012, but of course much has changed in the region since then, like Russia's growing assertiveness and the collapse of Russia-Turkey relations. So it now includes one country that is a longtime Russian enemy (Georgia), another new but fervent enemy (Turkey) and one country strenuously keeping its options open (Azerbaijan).
While Turkey has been hosting military exercises with Azerbaijan and Georgia under the "Caucasus Eagle" rubric since 2012, the exercises that Hasanov referred to appear to be something new. Well, new-ish: the defense ministers of the three countries met trilaterally for the first time in 2014 and made a nearly identical announcement about joint exercises, with little apparently having changed since then. The Bug Pit asked Michael Cecire, a Caucasus defense analyst and associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, for his thoughts:
There has been much ambition regarding trilateral defense cooperation going back a few years, but it has not come to much largely because there's no one country is really driving it. When trilateralism was first enshrined as a regional platform back in 2012, Tbilisi and Baku were really driving the agenda, and former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania had big plans for it during his tenure. But defense ministry turnover in Georgia (as well as in Azerbaijan) has meant the effort really does not have a "program manager" to do much more than maintain ongoing cooperation. If there is going to be any real momentum on trilateralism, it will have to come after the next Georgian election and the formation of a new government -- but even then the new government may be fixated on more "typical" defense issues like NATO, US relations, and of course managing ties with Russia.