Host of Russian-led bloc’s military drills announced
Kyrgyzstan will be the location of this year’s military exercise of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) after Armenia pulled out as host, the top military commander of the regional defense bloc has announced. Kyrgyzstan skipped its turn last year due to border tensions with Tajikistan.
The change of site of the ‘Indestructible Brotherhood-2023’ exercise was confirmed by Russian general Anatoly Sidorov, who serves as chief of joint staff of the CSTO, during a press conference on Tuesday. In addition to Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, the bloc also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The drill is normally conducted by the organization’s peacekeeping forces annually in the autumn. The exercise that was set to take place in mid-October 2022 was canceled at the last moment by the intended host, Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyz government made the decision in September, citing short but deadly border clashes with Tajikistan, a fellow CSTO member. Kyrgyzstan’s Vice Prime Minister Edil Baysarov confirmed that the instability was the reason for scrapping the exercise.
In January, Armenia announced that it had decided not to host any CSTO drills in 2023, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan calling it “inadvisable.” Yerevan had previously complained about the bloc’s negative response to its request to deploy troops amid a border standoff with rival Azerbaijan. The flare-up last September left dozens of soldiers killed on both sides.
The CSTO opted for a diplomatic approach and offered to deploy a border observer mission after the hostilities were over. The Pashinyan government snubbed the organization and called in EU monitors instead. Moscow expressed displeasure with the development, accusing the EU of trying to “get a foothold in Armenia and sideline Russia” on behalf of NATO.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have a decades-old conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian part of Azerbaijan, which considers itself a sovereign state. During a 44-day war in early 2021, Baku made some territorial gains. The fighting ended with a Moscow-brokered truce and the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping force. Pashinyan said last month that his country may want it replaced with a UN one after its mandate expires in 2025.