It should not be ruled out that Moscow has demanded from the Armenian side not to participate in Agile Spirit exercises
Since the end of August, Georgia’s media has been reporting that Armenia would participate in the multinational exercises of Agile Spirit 2017, which has been launched since September 3 and will continue to September 11. On August 29 civil.ge citing the Georgian Defence Ministry, reported, that Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania will participate in the exercises.
On September 3, however, it became known that Armenia would not participate in the multinational exercises Agile Spirit 2017. Moreover, if earlier there was no information about Azerbaijan’s involvement, it turned out that Azerbaijan participates in the exercises. It was obvious that this was a sudden decision. The flag of Armenia was even included in the logo of the exercises in the publications of the Georgian side. At the last moment Armenia refused to participate in the NATO exercises launched on September 3 in Georgia, as the official representative of the Ministry of Defence of Georgia Giorgi Kacharava reported: “Armenia was going to participate in the exercises but, unfortunately, they refused it several days before the launch. What is the reason, I do not know”.
On September 3, Armenia’s non-participation in Agile Spirit exercise in the media field triggered heated debate. On September 4, Armenian Deputy Defence Minister Artak Zakaryan touched upon the issue after one day’s silence, noting that Armenia had not officially confirmed its participation in the exercises. He noted that there was a plan, but the participation was not confirmed, and there were some revisions in planning. Then the RA Defence Ministry issued a statement in which it noted that the RA Armed Forces had decided not to take part in the exercises initially and no application for participation was made: “The circulating manipulations on the refusal to participate in military exercises at the last moment are inappropriate”.
In this case whether why the decision on non-participation of Armenia has become a surprise for the Georgian side, why the flag of Armenia appeared on the logo of the exercise, remains unknown. Has Georgian Defence Ministry official told a lie when he stated that “Armenia was going to participate in military exercises”? Let’s hope that this will not affect Armenia-Georgia relations.
However, the one-day silence of the Armenian side has become a reason for some assumptions. They were discussing the option that the Armenian side may have decided not to participate in military exercises because of the sudden participation of Azerbaijan. However, according to Artak Zakaryan’s assessments, we can conclude that, nevertheless, Azerbaijan’s participation was not the reason.
Although official Yerevan urges “not to see anything extraordinary” regarding Armenia’s non-participation, in any case, some conclusions can be made. Within a month Armenia participated in two large NATO exercises. NATO’s Saber Guardian 2017, the largest exercise in the history of the country, took place in Romania on July 11-20, and the NATO’s Noble Partner 2017 exercise took place in Georgia from July 31 to August 12. It should not be ruled out that in July, participating in these two exercises, official Yerevan decided not to participate in the exercises of Agile Spirit 2017 at the last moment. Such a decision will have some explanation: the recent developments are in the core of the Russia-US relations, which are already on the such a level where it is difficult to predict whether it will be possible to settle them in the near future. Perhaps, in this situation, Armenia has decided not to take such a step, in order not to annoy Moscow unnecessarily. The toughest option should not be excluded either when Moscow just demanded from the Armenian side not to participate in Agile Spirit exercises, which can serve as a basis for new, more alarming assumptions and conclusions.
Nevertheless, that Armenia-NATO relations have gone a long way toward development, which has been possible to achieve so far, provide grounds for predicting that deepening of relations should continue in different directions. It is worth mentioning a memorable event. In September 2004 NATO’s General James Jones, supreme commander of the Joint Forces in Europe, cancelled planned military exercises in Azerbaijan, with the participation of about 1,000 soldiers from various countries. The reason was that Baku had rejected the Armenian soldiers’ involvement in those exercises. Without any exaggeration, it can be stated that the fact of cancelling the “Joint Cooperative Best Effort-2004” exercise in Baku on September 13-26 within the NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” program, was a heavy blow to Azerbaijan’s international reputation. In Azerbaijan, they thought that since Armenia is a member of the CSTO and CIS, NATO will ignore their whims. Aliyev, on the one hand, promised the NATO generals and assured that he would ensure the participation of Armenian officers, and on the other hand provoked anti-Armenian moods in Azerbaijan. NATO did not tolerate it, with its actions proving that it is doing its best to remain faithful to the principles of partnership.
Let us hope that Armenia’s non-participation in multinational exercises of Agile Spirit 2017 will not leave a resentment on Armenia-NATO partnership relations based on loyalty.