According to field information, the first exercise was held on September 7 with the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the liberated region of Lachin. The second exercise is called “Three Brothers 2021” and was held in Baku for 9 days starting September 12 with the participation of Turkey, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Pakistan.
Countries usually pursue certain targets by holding joint military exercises and maneuvers, which are categorized into “declarations” and “actions”. The two recent joint exercises are no exception to this rule. Although the Republic of Azerbaijan and Pakistan each participate in those exercises for various reasons, the main initiative belongs to Turkey, so it is mainly defined under the targets and strategies of Ankara rather than Baku and Islamabad.
The stated objectives of the recent exercises have been clear and in the statements and remarks of the high-ranking military officials of the participating parties, it has been announced that it included military exercises and weapons training and greater solidarity among the three countries, exchange of military experience and information, and so on.
It seems that “demonstration of power” and “transmitting the message” to foreign players, including warring countries, rival countries and even friendly countries, have been among the strategic targets of the recent exercises in which Turkey was the main player; the targets are mostly aimed at “Russia”. It is noteworthy that over the past 10 years, Russia’s military presence in the periphery of Turkey, from the Crimean Peninsula to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and Syria, has multiplied.
Russia and Turkey were two important players which were more active in the Second Karabakh War. That war ended with the liberation of part of the occupied territories and the victory of the Azeri army and the signing of the tripartite ceasefire agreement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 11, 2020.
Although Turkey was more actively involved in the Karabakh war this time and supported the Republic of Azerbaijan, the available evidence suggests that it has not achieved satisfactory field and political achievements since the second Karabakh war compared to Russia. The recent war, in addition to “stabilizing” Russia’s position in the South Caucasus, which has always been considered as a “backyard” for the Russians during the post-Cold War era, also “strengthened and expanded” Moscow’s security influence in the region. Apparently, this issue is not considered “desirable” by Turkey. The Erdogan government is not very satisfied with the “current situation” in the South Caucasus, so it seeks to change it. According to the agreement between Ankara and Moscow, Turkish forces also monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in Karabakh at a joint center, but what exists is that the peacekeeping operation is reserved for Russia only and Moscow does not grant Turkey any rights in this regard. Ankara, meanwhile, wants maximum participation in this regard.
Turkey’s threatening message to Russia
Holding a joint exercise with the Republic of Azerbaijan, 300 meters from the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters in the Lachin corridor, conveys the message to Moscow that Turkey cannot be ignored in the South Caucasus and that Turkey can block the Lachin corridor if necessary; it will destroy some of Russia’s gains from the Karabakh war which could lead to the “limitation of Turkish activism” in the South Caucasus, and increase its field weight in the region to some extent. Given the depth and scope of Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus, realization of his target is a question that needs to be considered.
As for Turkey’s exercises with the Republic of Azerbaijan and Pakistan on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the targets are mainly Russian. Potential threats from Russia and from the sea are one of the main concerns of the Baku government. Turkey’s strong presence in the recent naval exercise, although small in scale, in addition to demonstrating naval strength, is a reassurance to the Baku government of this concern. It is noteworthy that Turkey has increased its naval presence off the coast of Azerbaijan in recent months.
Another issue related to the Turkish military exercises is the retaliation of Russian pressure on Turkey in Syria by applying pressure and “disturbing” Russia in the Caucasus. In a recent meeting with Bashar Assad, Putin said the main problem was the presence of foreign troops in Syria and said: I think the main problem is that foreign armed forces are present in parts of your country without the permission of the United Nations and without your permission. Although Turkey has not been mentioned in those remarks, Russia refers to Turkey and its military forces in Idlib. Despite all the pressure from Russia, Turkey has so far refused to withdraw from Idlib.
Certainly, the joint Turkish military exercises in the Caucasus, which are being held regularly, especially after the end of the Second Karabakh War, have several consequences. Those consequences mainly have “security dimensions”. Turkey seeks to break or disrupt Russia’s security monopoly in the Caucasus. This is at a time when Moscow is looking to the Caucasus as a backyard for its strategic, security and political interests. Breaking this deep-rooted security monopoly and the presence and influence that Russia has in the Caucasus in different dimensions is not an easy task. According to a clear strategy, Moscow seeks to distance the periphery environment and the Caucasus region from the influence and presence of Western powers; therefore, it is not easy to allow Turkey, which is a key member of NATO and has targets in line with European countries and the United States in the region, to have more military, security and political presence in the Caucasus. Thus, Turkey’s efforts to challenge Russia in the Caucasus not only do not give Ankara any concession, but also escalates security tensions and perpetuates instability and military confrontation.
The concluding point is that considering the distance between the location of the above exercises and Iran and its possible and potential dangers, the Islamic Republic of Iran, with full authority and readiness to neutralize the possible consequences, have vigilantly monitored such movements and will do the same in future.