War clouds are gathering over South Caucasus, as situation on the Line of Contact of Armenian and Azerbaijani troops escalates. Azerbaijan’s leadership does not conceal its aggressive plans and makes inflammatory statements at every step. Baku steps up efforts to boost cooperation with Turkey in the field of defense. Before the recent constitutional referendum in Turkey, the leadership there was bound with domestic political problems. After Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to push through the constitutional reform, though with insignificant difference in votes, he has received powers of a sultan. Now, the Turkish leadership may make even more attempts to escalate the conflict.
Military delegations have been traveling to Azerbaijan quite frequently lately. Commander of Turkish Naval Force, Admiral Bulent Bostanoglu visited Baku to familiarize himself with Command of Azerbaijan’s Naval Forces and High Military School named after Heydar Aliyev. Admiral met with Defense Minister of Azerbaijan, Colonel General Zakir Hasanov․ Before that, the Turkish delegation visited the tomb of Heydar Aliyev, Alley of Shahids, laid wreaths to the Eternal Fire and Memorial for Turkish Soldiers that fell there in 1918. Later, the Defense Ministry hosted a meeting where Hasanov highlighted the relations of Azerbaijan and Turkey are based on fraternity and friendship. The minister said these relations keep developing and meet the interests of both countries.
Besides, the sides discussed possibilities and prospects of expanding the relations in military, military and technical, and military education fields. They hailed mutual visits of experts and expert groups to exchange experience, hold joint exercises, test combat efficiency, as well as cooperation of the two countries’ naval forces. The guest urged more meetings to expand ties.
This May, Azerbaijan will host joint exercises of Turkish and Azerbaijani armed forces with field firing. Ceremonial welcoming of Turkish Armed Forces manpower took place at an airbase in Azerbaijan. Military Attache of Turkey in Azerbaijan, Brigadier General Zafer Ocak and Colonel of Azerbaijani Army Munasip Babayev welcomed the guests. Head of the Turkish delegation, Colonel Hakan Acikgoz stressed the importance of the joint exercises saying the experience the military will receive there will have a positive impact on further operative plans of the two countries.
Major goal of the exercises is to improve coordination through exchange of experience and interaction of military subdivisions of the two countries through joint planning of headquarters, upgrade of combat efficiency and abilities to conduct operations. During joint exercises, the sides will use armory, artillery and mortars, battle and transport helicopters and air defense and missile-defense units. A series of cultural and other events will be held for Turkish military ahead of the exercises.
Noteworthy that Azerbaijan already held exercises to test combat readiness of troops under simulated combat conditions earlier this month. The exercises were large scale, as they involved up to 30,000 troops, more than 250 tanks and armory, up to 200 artillery missile launchers, multiple launch rocket systems and mortars, 25 pieces of aircrafts, new electronic warfare and drones. Troops were trained to act in conditions of modern combined action and operation in complex environment of mountain relief.
Defense Minister of Azerbaijan Hasanov directly demanded the troops “to be ready for the most intensive battles and do not give enemy a single minute to rest.” He urged keeping the enemy activity under permanent control and preventing any actions by causing maximum casualties to the enemy.
It is nothing but a direct order for a large-scale bloodshed. Last April, Azerbaijan that spent tens of billions of dollars on purchase of arms, improvement of military infrastructures, and training of the army, launched large-scale military actions in Nagorno-Karabakh relying on its overwhelming quantitative and qualitative advantage. However, it achieved insignificant success instead of fundamental settlement of the issue. The success was too small to recompense for casualties.
Evidently, Armenia will not be caught off its guard as it was last April. Defense Minister of Armenia Vigen Sargsyan responded to the recent incident with a car being fired at from Azerbaijan’s positions in Tavush region, Armenia, quite calmly.
“Such incidents happen regularly. We do not think it is the right way. We are committed to ceasefire and consider it compulsory for the sides. Every violation must be condemned by the world community, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. We are not satisfied with their response at the moment,” the Armenian minister said.
Vigen Sargsyan’s discontent is natural. It is evident that absence of condemnation of such events by international community gives birth to the feeling of permissiveness and prompts more escalation. Another flare-up in tension in the South Caucasus will touch everyone. Even those who do not even think of it may be involved in the conflict irrespective of their will.
Recall that earlier the president of Turkey signed a decree to conduct “Caucasian Eagle” traditional joint military exercises with Azerbaijan and Georgia in 2017. It is no secret against whom Azerbaijan and Turkey coordinate their military efforts. It is not clear against whom Georgian military are going to fight in such company. Perhaps, it is a topic for another discussion.
Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi) for EADaily