Planned Armenia-US military drills threaten to become embarrassment for Moscow
Armenia’s latest move to secure a range of allies amid claims from Yerevan that it was a mistake to rely solely on Russia as a strategic ally that could guarantee its security threatens to become an embarrassment for Moscow—Armenia's Defence Ministry said on September 6 that Armenian and US forces will hold joint military exercises beginning next week.
Armenia—embroiled in mounting tensions with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region and an Azerbaijani blockade that the enclave’s ethnic Armenian population says threatens households with starvation—said that the September 11-20 "Eagle Partner 2023" exercise with US forces would focus on "stabilisation operations between conflicting parties during peacekeeping tasks".
A US military spokesperson was reported by Reuters as saying that 85 US soldiers and 175 Armenian soldiers will take part in the drills, adding that the Americans—including members of the Kansas National Guard, which has a 20-year-old training partnership with Armenia—would be armed with rifles and would not be using heavy weaponry.
The drills, set for Yerevan, would be the first of their kind.
Pointing to the blockade of Karabakh, Yerevan has accused deployed Russian peacekeepers of failing to do their jobs.
Armenia, frustrated with its traditional strategic ally Russia over a perceived lack of assistance in dealing with an aggressive Azerbaijan, must know the military exercises will rile the Kremlin.
Olesya Vartanyan, senior South Caucasus analyst at non-profit conflict prevention organisation Crisis Group, told Reuters that Armenia was sending a signal to Moscow that "your distraction [with the Ukraine war matters] and the fact that you are so inactive plays towards our enemy", meaning Azerbaijan.
Responding to the announcement of the exercise, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Of course, such news causes concern, especially in the current situation. Therefore, we will deeply analyse this news and monitor the situation."
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has lately accused Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, of failing to protect his country against continuing aggression from Azerbaijan. He pointed to the Ukraine war distracting Russia from the situation in the South Caucasus and said relying only on the Russians to ensure security for Armenia has proved a mistake.
In recent months, Armenia has been building up relations with a range of countries, including Iran, France, the US and India. While India tends to back Armenia, through the provision of arms in particular, its rival Pakistan, like Turkey, serves as an ally to Azerbaijan.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and projects itself as the pre-eminent power in the South Caucasus, the three countries of which were until 1991 part of the Soviet Union.
Vartanyan was further reported as saying that Armenia and Azerbaijan may be closer to a potential peace agreement than they have been for years, but there was also a significant risk of a major new military escalation between them.
The analyst said footage on social media in recent days showed increasingly frequent Azerbaijani military movements near the front line between the two countries. "It doesn't look good at all," she said.
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