CPC - Caspian Policy Center


caspian states to hold military drills for the first time without russia’s participation

Caspian States to Hold Military Drills for the First Time Without Russia’s Participation

Author: Toghrul Ali

Apr 16, 2024

Image source: Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kazakhstan

The repercussions of Russia's conflict with Ukraine are bleeding across Russia’s southern borders into the Caspian Region, sparking a recalibration of the region’s security dynamics. Although the region has carefully navigated its complex relations with Moscow, this balancing act is creating a sense of needing a different form of security. In this vein, there has been a notable increase in regional cooperation, particularly within the military sphere. The Caspian Region has begun to visibly bolster its military capabilities. The recently reached agreement by the representatives from the Ministries of Defense of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan on April 4 signifies a major milestone, as it marks the first instance of Caspian countries conducting multilateral joint exercises independently, without Russia’s participation. 

On April 4, representatives from the operational-command staffs of five South Caucasus and Central Asian countries’ Ministries of Defense held a joint conference planning meeting in Aktau, Kazakhstan. During the meeting, the parties signed a joint plan agreeing to hold “Бірлестік (Unity) - 2024” exercises in July 2024 at the Oymasha training facility in Kazakhstan, as well as at Cape Tokmak in the Caspian Sea. Notably, the exercise will include activities aimed at identifying armed conflicts' locations, as well as practicing episodes in night conditions at sea and landing of paratroopers.

Amid Russia's recent efforts to maintain its influence in the ‘Eurasian heartland’, Caspian states have been seeking avenues to enhance their military capabilities independently, bypassing Moscow's involvement. Russia has attempted to maintain its waning influence in the region primarily via the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as its members. However, the recent actions of specific member states, such as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, to distance themselves from the security bloc, highlight a noticeable division emerging within the Russia-led organization. With Russia's attention increasingly diverted towards Ukraine, pressure on the Caspian region has somewhat eased, affording states the opportunity to bolster their defense capabilities, focusing on enhancing combat training quality and troop readiness.

The increased military collaboration observed in the region following the onset of the war in Ukraine has primarily been limited to bilateral drills. Joint military exercises were held between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan in July (“UZAZ-2023”), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (“Kanzhar-2023”) in August, and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in October (“Khazri-2023”). Caspian countries have held joint military drills with Türkiye (bilateral) and the United States (bilateral and multilateral). From this perspective, it can be suggested that the planned “Unity - 2024” exercises provide the four Central Asian countries, as well as Azerbaijan with a unique opportunity to strengthen their military cooperation independently, without the involvement of third parties.

The Unity-2024 tactical military training exercises, uniting Caspian states, marks a significant milestone in their military partnership, notably as the first such operation conducted independently of Russian involvement. Amid these encouraging advancements and increasing unity, there is an expectation for the continuation of such endeavors. While these collaborative exercises signal a positive trajectory in enhancing the military capacities and coordinating ability of the Caspian nations, they will have to carefully tread the track record of their large neighbor.

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