The news last week that Azerbaijan had unilaterally and without explanation put off planned military exercises with the U.S. led many commentators, The Bug Pit included, to conclude that the exercises weren't going to happen. But that may have been a hasty conclusion. The exercises appear to be back on the table, as U.S. Ambassador to Baku Matthew Bryza met today with the Azerbaijani Minister of Defense, Safar Abiyev. And according to the defense ministry, among the topics discussed was the date to hold the exercise.
On Friday, a defense ministry spokesman argued that there was no political reason for postponing the exercise, but didn't offer any other reason:
“We have expressed our position on this issue. There is no obscurity. May be, everything will be solved.
We don’t see any necessity to give a political color to this situation and to create a problem from it. Unfortunately, we face with such attempts”, said spokesman for the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, Lieutenant-Colonel Eldar Sabiroghlu answering APA’s question on the postponement of US-Azerbaijan joint military exercises.
Sabiroghlu said that the Defense Ministry was not engaged in the politics, and declared its concrete position to the organization’s temporary stop of the exercises: “Basing on the bilateral military cooperation, we continue our cooperation in other directions now”.
See, there's no obscurity at all! So wait, why was the exercise postponed again?
One Azerbaijani analyst has a theory: Baku is just responding to a conspiracy, jointly organized by Washington, Yerevan and -- yes -- Tehran, to discredit Azerbaijan, including by filming the arrest of a mother and her little daughter. Even by the standards of Caucasus conspiracy theories, this one is a doozy. From the newspaper Ekho, via BBC Monitoring:
"Azerbaijan has itself postponed the military exercise, and this has happened before too," the director of the Centre for Political Innovations and Technologies, Mubariz Ahmadoglu, told Ekho. "Azerbaijan is feeling under pressure taking account of the developments in our region. Especially now that the USA has been committing provocations against Azerbaijan and most likely, it has been doing so purposefully, in accordance with a plan drawn up by US officials."
Ahmadoglu said that US ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza had been supporting Armenians and trying to portray Armenians in a more favourable light than Azerbaijanis. He also accused the USA of involvement in the publication of a video depicting the police detaining a woman with her little daughter at the 17 April opposition demonstration in Baku. At the same time, Ahmadoglu said that the video had been recorded by a media close to Iran, Ekho reported.
"I suppose that the USA has ill intentions vis-à-vis Azerbaijan and it is acting either on instructions from Armenia or in tandem with Iran," Ekho quoted the analyst as saying. While Iran and the USA regard each other as enemies, they maintain some contacts, Ahmadoglu said. Therefore, America is trying to hold the drills in order to provoke Iran, he added: "America offered the military exercise to Azerbaijan in order to irritate Tehran. Therefore, I am confident that Azerbaijani officials acted correctly by cancelling the military drills."
"The current state of relations between Azerbaijan and the USA leaves much to be desired, and the Americans are to blame for that. If these people get more reasonable and pursue more noble goals, our country will never reject them," Ahmadoglu concluded.
So was Baku's original intent to cancel the exercises, and now they're backpedaling? I can imagine that whoever in the U.S. military is organizing this exercise is wondering if it's all worth it -- last week's announcement was less than a month before the exercise was supposed to start. Whatever you want to say about the U.S. military, you can't accuse them of not planning. It can take me a month to arrange an interview with one official. So to reschedule an exercise with U.S. soldiers in another country is likely being seen as a massive hassle by the folks at the Pentagon.
Anyway, we'll keep following this saga.