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Defense Ministry rejects link between Russian drills and Azeri-Armenian escalation

These checks are being conducted as planned and are a major part of preparations for the Kavkaz-2020 (Caucasus-2020) strategic command and staff exercise, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said

MOSCOW, July 18. /TASS/. The snap combat readiness drills of Russia’s Armed Forces are being held as scheduled and are preparations for the Kavkaz-2020 military exercise, and thus have no connection with the escalation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters on Saturday.

The deputy defense minister strongly dismissed any link between the combat training activities held by the Russian Armed Forces and the escalation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border.

"These checks are being conducted as planned and are a major part of preparations for the Kavkaz-2020 (Caucasus-2020) strategic command and staff exercise," Fomin said.

The Russian Defense Ministry pointed out that on July 20 Fomin would hold a briefing for foreign military attaches to inform them about the snap combat readiness drills.

Fomin recalled that the surprise combat readiness drills have been held by the Russian Armed Forces since July 17 following an order by Russia’s Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin. The drills involve about 15,000 service members, about 400 aircraft, over 26,000 weapons and military hardware, and over 100 vessels.

"Currently, the troops are on high alert, finishing concentration in designated areas and preparing for combat training tasks. Forces, formations and military units are assigned the task of operational and combat training activities at 35 firing ranges and 17 maritime firing ranges, which shows a large spatial scope and scale of the snap drill," Fomin said.

Escalation on Azerbaijani-Armenian border

Tensions escalated on the two countries’ border on July 12. Azerbaijan reported that Armenia’s Armed Forces had tried to launch an attack on its positions with the use of artillery systems, whereas Armenia said that the situation on the border had aggravated after Azerbaijan’s attempted assault. Baku said that its twelve service members had been killed since last Sunday. Yerevan reported that four troops had been killed and ten more wounded. On Friday and Saturday, both sides reported that the situation on the border was relatively calm.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the highland region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that had been part of Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union break-up, but primarily populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out in February 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1992-1994, tensions boiled over and exploded into large-scale military action for control over the enclave and seven adjacent territories after Azerbaijan lost control of them. Talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement have been ongoing since 1992 under the OSCE Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs - Russia, France and the United States.