Who's lying about Armenia's participation in the U.S.-led military exercises held in Georgia

Georgia -- The initial logo of
Georgia — The initial logo of “Agile Spirit 2017” military exercises published by the Georgian Ministry of Defense

The fact that Armenia has pulled away from taking part in the US-led military excercises in Georgia would be a minor story, if it wasn’t blown out of proportion by contradictory statements from Armenian and Georgian Defense Ministries. And now the story just won’t go away.
Georgian Defense Ministry issued a  statement back in July saying that “Georgia and its partner countries – USA, Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine and Armenia will take part in the military drills.”
In a press-release about the start of the military drills, however, the Georgians said “Agile Spirit 2017 is being conducted under the organization of the Georgian Armed Forces and the U.S. Marine Corps’ European and African Forces and with participation of the soldiers from Georgia, the United States, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Azerbaijan.”
Notably, Armenia was not included in the list while Azerbaijan was added.
The conclusion would apparently be that changes happen and the list published in the first press-release wasn’t very final, since there were changes both in the cases of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The whole thing started when Tert.am, one of Armenia’s largest news websites with known links to the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his close circle, published a story claiming that Armenia pulled out of the drills at the last minute. The report cited Georgian Defense Ministry public relations officer Giorgi Kajarava, who said Armenia dropped out of the military exercises at the last minute. The report, also, somewhat inaccurately said that the drills were organized by NATO, which turned out not to be true.
Interestingly, the story went viral because of the fact that NATO’s name was mentioned and because it was September 3rd. This date is significant, since on September 3rd, 2013 Armenia unexpectedly announced about its last-minute decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU and join the Russia-led Customs Union instead. So most comments on the Armenian social networks were like — Armenia is again making a U-turn and pulling out of another Western initiative. The conspiracy theories flourished seeing Russian meddling behind the whole thing.
I didn’t publish anything about this story at that point because I discovered that these weren’t NATO exercises and because I was so surprised that Tert.am published the story and because I couldn’t get any direct quote, statement either from Armenian or Georgian Defense Ministries.
Armenia responded a day later, with Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian acknowledging that Yerevan planned to take part in the Akhaltsikhe drills, but he also noted that “Armenia never officially stated that it will definitely participate.” Following this statement Armenia’s Defense Ministry issued an official statement, saying the decision not to send Armenian soldiers to the “Agile Spirit 20” war games was made “right from the beginning” because they were not deemed of “primary significance to the Armenian Armed Forces.”
Meanwhile, Georgian Defense Ministry gave this explanation to the Armenian service of RFE/RL (Azatutyun.am):

Military exercises are planned through the conference cycles out of
which the most significant is the final planning conference,
where the convened countries finally confirm their participation, the
number of participating military personnel, selected positions and agree
on logistical and other administrative issues.
After receiving the official letter of invitation, two representatives
of the Armenian Armed Forces attended the final planning conference in
Georgia (10-13 July, 2017) and confirmed participation of 3 Armenian officers in the multinational exercise.
The Georgian side was notified shortly before the active phase of Agile
Spirit 2017 that the Armenian officers would not be able to take part in
the military exercise.
The reason for refusal has not been explained.

There are now so many contradictions in this story that I don’t even want to start analyzing. Here are some quick questions:

  • If the list of participants was finalized in July, why Azerbaijan’s name wasn’t included in the first statement?
  • Why would Tert.am (close to Armenian authorities) be the one breaking this story, which apparently makes Armenia seem as though it is avoiding NATO exercises?
  • Why is the statement from Armenia’s Defense Ministry in apparent contradiction with the statement of the Deputy Defense Minister?
  • What’s going on between Armenian and Georgian Defense Ministries? This line says it all: “The reason for refusal has not been explained.” It looks as though these guys are not even talking to each other. Really? WTF!

Frankly, these are quite insignificant drills from Armenia’s perspective, especially since Armenia seemed quite comfortable sending 30 troops to take part in NATO‘s “Noble Partner” drills held near Tbilisi in early August. Incidentally, Azerbaijan skipped the “Noble Partner” drills but chose to participate in the “Agile Spirit” war games.

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant