WASHINGTON, DC – In response to a Congressional Armenian Caucus inquiry regarding Azerbaijan’s May 18-22 war games, the State Department, this week, revealed that it has warned Azerbaijan regarding its lack of transparency regarding large-scale military exercises, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) informs Zartonk Media.
“We welcome the news that the State Department has warned Azerbaijan over its large-scale military exercises and encourage increased U.S. vigilance against Baku’s reckless arms build-up, military escalation, and cross-border attacks against both Artsakh and Armenia,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “However, in light of President Aliyev’s own stated intentions, the fungible nature of security assistance, and the resources that U.S. aid frees up in Baku’s military budget, we do take strong issues with the patently false assertion that the $120 million U.S. aid package to Azerbaijan does not violate Section 907 by contributing to its offensive capabilities. The U.S. military aid package to Azerbaijan represents a clear cut violation of Section 907.”
The June 23rd Department of State letter, signed by Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Mary Elizabeth Taylor, states that “The United States has conveyed its concerns to Azerbaijan previously about the lack of transparency regarding large-scale exercises and will continue to highlight with Azerbaijan, bilaterally and at OSCE meetings, the importance of complete and timely notification of military activities in accordance with VD11 commitments, particularly annual notification of at least one exercise or activity in the absence of any that exceed Chapter V thresholds.” However, the letter notes that “after reviewing the available information, to date the United States has not determined that the Azerbaijani military exercises that concluded on May 22 at any point exceeded VD 11 notification thresholds.”
Further still, the letter discounts concerns about the possible use U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan against Armenia, stating, “The United States reviews such assistance thoroughly to ensure it will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan and will not be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.”
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) disputed that assertion in a May 20th letter, addressed to both the State Department and Pentagon, that raised alarms about Baku’s reckless escalation during the global COVID-19 pandemic. “The aid appears to have allowed Azerbaijan to shift resources toward offensive capabilities and further threaten Armenian lives and regional stability as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues warned in letters sent to you in September and November of 2019. We cannot allow Azerbaijan to use the global coronavirus pandemic as cover for these dangerous military operations,” stated the Congressional Armenian Caucus letter, which, in addition to Rep. Pallone, was cosigned by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), Vice-Chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), T.J. Cox (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Juan Vargas (D-CA). A separate letter on this same subject was sent to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces held large-scale “offensive” tactical military exercises from May 18th to 22nd, featuring, according of official announcements, “massive artillery, air, and high-precision weapons.” The Armenian Defense Ministry condemned the exercises noting that they “exacerbate the security environment in the region, under the conditions of a global imperative for joint actions against the COVID-19 pandemic and despite the call for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a global ceasefire.”
In May of this year, the ANCA issued an online call to action urging Americans to contact Congress to raise concerns that Baku risks starting a regional war amid a global pandemic with these actions and ongoing sniper attacks along the Artsakh and Armenia lines of contact.
The full text of both letters is provided below.
State Department Response to Congressional Armenian Caucus Letter Regarding Azerbaijani Military Exercises
June 23, 2020
Frank Pallone, Jr.
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Pallone:
Thank you for your May 20 letter regarding military exercises conducted by the Republic of Azerbaijan from May 18-22, 2020. As a co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, the United States remains strongly committed to helping the opposing sides achieve a lasting, peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of refraining from the threat or use of force, the territorial integrity of states and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.
Maintaining stability along the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, as well as the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border, remains a key focus of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ discussions with the sides. In their recent public statements and ongoing consultations, including video conferences with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers April 20-21, 2020, and May 18-19, 2020, the United States and other Minsk Group Co-Chairs stressed the importance of observing the ceasefire strictly and refraining from provocative actions in the current environment. They also called on the sides to take concrete measures to reduce tensions further. U.S. officials in Washington and in the South Caucasus region also have emphasized these points directly with Armenian and Azerbaijani interlocutors.
The United States is a strong proponent of adherence to arms control agreements and arrangements, including the commitments set out in the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- Building and Security-Building Measures (VD11). The value of arms control agreements and arrangements is diminished if participating States do not implement their obligations and commitments fully. After reviewing the available information, to date the United States has not determined that the Azerbaijani military exercises that concluded on May 22 at any point exceeded VD 11 notification thresholds. The State Department, in coordination with the Department of Defense, will continue to address any concerns regarding the actions of partners and co-participants in such agreements and arrangements through diplomatic engagement and will detail its findings in the Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, submitted to Congress annually pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 2593a. The United States has conveyed its concerns to Azerbaijan previously about the lack of transparency regarding large-scale exercises and will continue to highlight with Azerbaijan, bilaterally and at OSCE meetings, the importance of complete and timely notification of military activities in accordance with VD11 commitments, particularly annual notification of at least one exercise or activity in the absence of any that exceed Chapter V thresholds.
The United States attaches great importance to strengthening its partnerships with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. These partnerships have advanced U.S. national security priorities, including the Resolute Support Mission, where Armenian and Azerbaijani forces serve alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan and for which Azerbaijan provides critical overflight access. The DoD maritime and border security cooperation programs with Azerbaijan, funded through a U.S. Building Partner Capacity program, are in the national interests of the United States, Azerbaijan, and other partners in the region as these borders are areas of significant concern for potential movement of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, illicit narcotics, and other unlawful trafficking. Moreover, these programs increase Azerbaijan’s capability to counter threats to its critical energy infrastructure, which provides a critical alternative to Russian and Iranian energy resources for Western markets. The United States reviews such assistance thoroughly to ensure it will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan and will not be used for offensive purposes against Armenia. These program activities do not occur at or near the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan or the Line of Contact. The nature of the training and equipment provided (e.g., radars, patrol boats, diving gear, x-ray scanners, underwater surveillance, and visit, board, search, and seizure capabilities), is such that it does not contribute to the offensive capabilities of Azerbaijan and cannot be misused to threaten Armenia or regional stability.
The people of the region deserve to live in peace and security. The U.S. commitment to helping the sides achieve a lasting, peaceful settlement to this long-standing conflict is resolute, and we will remain actively engaged through the Minsk Group process.
We hope this information is helpful to you. Please let us know if we may be of further assistance.
Mary Elizabeth Taylor
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Legislative Affairs
Text of Congressional Letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper
Dear Secretaries Pompeo and Esper:
We are gravely concerned about the military exercises reported to be held by the Republic of Azerbaijan from May 18 to 22, 2020. These exercises are dangerous, violate diplomatic agreements and have the potential to destabilize security in the South Caucasus at a time when the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and threatened the health of many more. We strongly urge the Department of State and the Department of Defense to condemn these egregious actions taken by the Azerbaijani military.
Even in normal circumstances, these exercises would be unacceptable due to their offensive nature and the failure to follow diplomatic notification practices. On May 14, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released information describing military exercises that would take place from May 18 to 22. Azeri reports state that the exercises are expected to include 10,000 servicemen, 120 artillery and armored vehicles, 200 missile systems, 30 aviation units, and various unmanned aerial vehicles. The failure to provide adequate notification as prescribed under the 2011 Vienna Document and the size of the exercises demonstrates Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s intention of further aggravating historical tensions with the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
We are especially concerned that over $100 million in security assistance the United States has sent to Azerbaijan over the last two years through the Section 333 Building Partner Capacity program has emboldened the Aliyev regime. This taxpayer funding defies almost two decades of parity in U.S. security assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The aid appears to have allowed Azerbaijan to shift resources toward offensive capabilities and further threaten Armenian lives and regional stability as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues warned in letters sent to you in September and November of 2019.
We cannot allow Azerbaijan to use the global coronavirus pandemic as cover for these dangerous military operations. We urge you to immediately condemn the reckless actions of the Azerbaijani military and to work with our allies and international partners to halt the provocative actions being taken by the Aliyev Regime.
We look forward to your prompt reply to this request.