Azerbaijan starts large-scale military drills ahead of Baku-Yerevan meeting
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Azerbaijan starts large-scale military drills ahead of Baku-Yerevan meeting

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the exercises would be held from 11 to 15 March, involving up to 10,000 troops, 500 tanks, 300 missile systems and aircraft as well as other military equipment. "In the course of the drills, army units will accomplish various tasks aimed at preparing an offensive operation against a conventional enemy," the ministry said in a statement. Azerbaijani troops will also test new weaponry systems during the five-day drills, according to the statement. The military exercises are being conducted ahead of planned talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. No date has been set yet for the talks between Aliyev and Pashinyan over the disputed region, but both sides have expressed willingness for them to take place. No talks 'under the barrel of a gun' The large-scale drills in Azerbaijan were quickly denounced by Armenia as sabre-rattling ahead of the planned talks between Baku and Yerevan. In response to the Monday announcement, Armenia's Foreign Ministry said the drills "do not contribute to the creation of an environment conducive to peace," and that Yerevan would not accept talks that took place "under the barrel of a gun." International mediators to the Karabakh conflict, the so-called Minsk Group consisting of diplomats from France, Russia, and the United States, had earlier in the month welcomed Pashinyan's and Aliyev's "commitment to meet soon." The Minsk Group, however, had called on both sides "to refrain from statements and actions suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground, prejudging the outcome of or setting conditions for future talks, demanding unilateral changes to the format without agreement of the other party, or indicating readiness to renew active hostilities." The Nagorno-Karabakh region is surrounded by Azerbaijan's territory but was seized by Armenian separatists in a bloody war that claimed some 30,000 lives in the early 1990s. The conflict ended with a fragile truce in 1994. The two former Soviet countries are technically still at war and have yet to reach a permanent peace agreement on the issue.

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