Troops from the United States, Georgia, and other countries began the Agile Spirit 2017 military drills on September 3 at the Orpolo firing range near Akhaltsikhe in the south of the South Caucasus country.
It is the seventh time the maneuvers, designed to enhance U.S., Georgian, and regional partner interoperability and strengthen the understanding of each country’s tactics, techniques, and procedures, have been held, according to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Armenia was invited to participate in the drills, and its absence sparked rumors it had refused to join the exercises.
“We initially plan our participation in this or that event, but the official confirmation comes close to the date of the event. Armenia had never confirmed its participation. Therefore, it has not refused to participate,” Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakharyan told reporters in Yerevan on September 4.
Prior to the start, U.S. military officials said units from its Marine Corps and army would participate along with 1,000 service members from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Armenia, alongside troops from NATO member states Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania.
However, Georgian Defense Ministry officials Giorgi Kacharava and Nino Tolordava said on September 3 that Armenia decided not to participate, without providing further information.
Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Russia is particularly sensitive of moves by Armenia to increase its military ties to the West, especially to the United States.
Armenia is also a bitter rival of Azerbaijan. The two neighbors have been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades.
With reporting by Public Radio of Armenia, TASS, and Agenda.ge