YEREVAN — The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a post-Soviet defensive alliance of six member-states including Armenia, has confirmed that it will hold large-scale military drills in Armenia this year. The war games, dubbed “Thunder 2021,” were announced as a tense standoff on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border enters its fourth week after several hundred Azerbaijani soldiers illegally entered Armenian territory on foot on May 12.
Armenia officially triggered Article 2 of the CSTO’s mutual security treaty just under two days after the incursion was recorded. However, aside from statements of concern, the organization has until now refrained from openly backing its South Caucasian ally in the matter. In the ensuing weeks, Azerbaijani forces fired on Armenian positions, killing one servicemember and later abducting six military engineers from Armenian territory in the middle of the night. Most recently, a shootout ensued when Armenian forces prevented Azerbaijani soldiers from stealing a shepherd’s flock near Gegharkunik’s Kut village.
CSTO Deputy Secretary General Valery Semerikov insisted last week that urgent measures, “primarily of a political and diplomatic nature,” were necessary to address the crisis. This position seemingly aligns with the Russian Federation, which has also repeatedly offered to act as a mediator to resolve the border demarcation dispute, without explicitly calling out Azerbaijan for breaching Armenian sovereignty.
Armenian Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan previously criticized the alliance’s reluctance to intervene, or even explicitly formulating its stance on the issue. He did reveal that CSTO leaders had privately pledged to support Armenia, but have yet to do so publicly. “We want clarity on this issue,” Pashinyan insisted during a parliamentary question period last month.
Armenian Acting Minister of Defense Vagharshak Harutiunyan said after a visit with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, in Moscow last week “our partners looked into possible ways of resolving the situation and reached agreement on necessary steps.” However the Russian Ministry of Defense’s statement did not elaborate on any agreed solution.
More vocal support for Armenia’s position did come from the West, however. As part of a two-day visit to the French capital Pashinyan was warmly received by French President Emmanuel Macron, French Senate President Gérard Larcherm, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on June 1. Macron repeated earlier calls on Azerbaijan to immediately retreat from Armenian sovereign territory and formally accepted Pashinyan’s earlier offer that France join an international mediation effort to resolve the border demarcation issue. The French president even called his Azerbaijani counterpart with that same message. “We stand in solidarity with Armenia and we will continue to do so,” Macron said during the meeting between the two heads of state.