Armenia, Azerbaijan Conduct Large-Scale Military Exercises

YEREVAN — Armenia’s armed forces are due to begin large-scale military exercises on March 16, one day after Azerbaijan launched four days of drills involving thousands of troops.

Deputy Defense Minister Arman Sargsian said Armenia’s armed forces will aim to test their defense capability during their first major military exercises since a defeat in a war against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh last fall.

The March 16-20 drills will involve 7,500 soldiers, about 100 tanks and armored vehicles, some 300 artillery and antiaircraft systems, and aircraft, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said.

A ministry statement said they will take place in “all operational directions of the armed forces” in accordance with the Armenian army’s training plan for the first half of this year.

The statement added that the drills are designed to “check the combat readiness of troops” and their ability to “rapidly act in the existing situation.”

“Every military exercise has its own clear goal: it is to check the defense capability of troops, the general use of available resources, and so on. I can say that at this moment the Defense Ministry and the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia are in control of the situation,” Deputy Defense Minister Sargsian said at a news conference.

The Defense Ministry statement did not specify whether unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also called drones, will be used in the exercises. But over the past two weeks, Armenia’s High-Tech Industry Minister Hakob Arshakian has been posting videos of tests of Armenian-made combat UAVs on Facebook and Twitter. According to the minister, these drones can operate at a distance of up to 500 kilometers and carry up to 12 kilograms of explosives.

Show Of Force

According to military expert Karen Hovhannisian, the scale of exercises announced by Armenia shows that the nation also wants to demonstrate its force after the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, where hostilities were stopped due to a Russian-brokered cease-fire that took effect on November 10, 2020.

“In other words, it is a kind of message that after the war the armed forces of Armenia are quickly back on their feet, having restored their potential,” Hovhannisian told RFE/RL.

Political analyst Ruben Mehrabian also said that the current military exercises primarily carry a political message about Armenia “restoring its military potential and seeking to regain its role in regional events.”

“The fact that only four months after the end of the war, large-scale tactical military exercises are being held in Armenia is already an important event on the way towards strengthening the security of Armenia,” Mehrabian told RFE/RL.

Meanwhile, on March 15, Azerbaijan began four-day military exercises with the participation of 10,000 troops, about 100 tank units, other armored vehicles, missile systems, and aircraft, including drones.

The Defense Ministry in Baku said last week that the drills would be held in unspecified mountainous areas.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on March 12 that the Azerbaijani war games were planned beforehand and will not jeopardize “stability and security in the region.”

Last month Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian said that Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, is helping Yerevan restructure and modernize its armed forces. He said concrete “recommendations” have already been made on how to rearm the Armenian army but did not give any details.

In an interview with foreign media on February 26, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that Russia should avoid helping Armenia modernize its army and urged it “not to give weapons to Yerevan,” according to TASS.

The military exercises are taking place during a visit to the region by Ann Linde, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). She met in Baku with Aliyev on March 15 and is due to visit Yerevan on March 16 for meetings with top Armenian officials to discuss security issues.

The OSCE’s Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, the United States, and France, still has an international mandate to mediate a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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