Georgia To Hold Joint Military Exercises with Turkey, Azerbaijan

GABALA, Azerbaijan – Georgia’s Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli met with her Turkish and Azeri counterparts in the Azerbaijani city of Gabala on Sunday to discuss joint military exercises in 2017.

“We discussed the possibility of holding joint military exercises within a trilateral framework. Georgia has expressed our willingness to host several such trainings in 2017,” Khidasheli said in remarks distributed by the Georgian Ministry of Defense. “Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have expressed their interest…so we will prepare for sometime in spring 2017.”

The three sides also discussed issuing a memorandum of understanding on formal military cooperation. Included in the cooperation package is an offer to offered Baku to take part in and have access to the training programs held at the NATO-Georgia Joint Training Center and the Defense Institutional Building School, both part of NATO’s substantial package offered to Georgia in 2015, Khidasheli said

"We believe that it is appropriate to hold trilateral joint military exercises to improve the combat readiness and mutual vigilance of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The exercises will help boost cyber security and improve the protection of oil and gas pipelines," Azeri Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said.

Regional security in the South Caucasus and Georgia’s integration into the NATO command structure topped the agenda at the meeting. The three defense ministers also discussed a newly proposed Black Sea security concept that will include a NATO Black Sea Fleet that would include alliance members Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania as well as non-NATO members Ukraine and Georgia.

“We support Georgia’s NATO membership and appreciate its reform efforts and continued efforts to further integrate with the Euro-Atlantic alliance,” Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said at a press conference following the meeting.

Hasanov also said that the three sides discussed a resolution aimed at ending the 25 year-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A major uptick in violence in early April left nearly 200 people dead or wounded after the two sides clashed along the demilitarized zone that separates the two bitter rivals.

The outbreak of fighting was the worst since a 1994 Russian-brokered ceasefire ended a three-year war that killed an estimated 30,000 people.

Trilateral meetings between the three defense ministers have been held twice a year since August 2014.

By Nicholas Waller

16 May 2016 22:15