Azeri Army Holds Large-Scale Drills Near Armenia as Talks Stall

Azerbaijan started large-scale military maneuvers in its exclave of Naxcivan bordering Armenia as peace talks stall over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The exercises, led by Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, involve aircraft, artillery, missiles, air-defense systems and other military hardware, the ministry said today on its website. Naxcivan lies between Armenia and Iran.

Azerbaijan has raised military spending almost 30-fold in in the past 10 years to $3.7 billion to bolster its army after losing its war with Armenia two decades ago. President Ilham Aliyev has called for Azerbaijan, the only route outside Russia for westward oil and gas flows from the Caspian, should be ready to take back Nagorno-Karabakh by force if peace efforts fail.

Backed by Russia, Armenia took over Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mostly by ethnic Armenians, and seven adjacent districts lying within Azerbaijan’s border before a cease-fire was reached in 1994. The sides have yet to sign a peace agreement after talks mediated by Russia, the U.S. and France.

“It is no secret that might is the main factor in today’s world,” Aliyev said last week in remarks on the presidential website. “This is reality. Therefore, we should be even more powerful.”

Azerbaijan has sought to build ties with Europe and establish itself as an alternative source of supplies. In December, it signed $45 billion of contracts with a BP Plc-led group to develop phase two of the Shah Deniz natural-gas project and pipe the fuel to Europe.

Israel, Turkey

The Caspian nation has also forged closer ties with Israel by buying its advanced weapons including drones and missile systems. It also works closely with NATO-member Turkey, with whom it has signed an agreement on military cooperation.

The existing accord with Turkey is limited to training and arms purchases and the two nations are negotiating a broader military deal to guarantee mutual assistance in case of an attack, Novruz Mammadov, head of the presidential administration’s foreign-relations department, said on the ANS television channel on April 6.

Aliyev paid a visit to Tehran on April 9 and called for expansion of military ties with Iran, saying the Persian Gulf country’s support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very important. He sent his defense minister to Tehran five days later.

Armenia hosts a Russian military base in its second-largest city of Gyumri. As a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, it also buys Russian weapons on discounted prices.

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