Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan will conduct joint military exercises in Georgia in spring 2017.
The news was announced after the Defence Ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey held a trilateral meeting in the Azerbaijani city of Gabala yesterday.
In Gabala,Azerbaijan for trilateral meeting with my colleagues from #Turkey and #Azerbaijanpic.twitter.com/hqCkJSJuM2— Tina Khidasheli (@tinakhidasheli) May 15, 2016
After the meeting Georgia’s Tinatin Khidasheli said the Georgian side offered its neighbours to participate in the programs and projects that were being implemented in Georgia with the help of NATO.
"We talked about the drills possibly being held in a trilateral format,” Khidasheli said.
"Georgia expressed its will to host several such exercises in 2017.”
Azerbaijan’s Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov confirmed this later on Sunday.
"We considered it appropriate to hold trilateral joint exercises to improve combat readiness and mutual vigilance of the three countries, cooperate in the field of military training in a trilateral format, develop cooperation in the field of cyber security and hold exercises for the protection of oil and gas pipelines," he said.
The three officials also agreed to sign a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding.
"The memorandum, which is being prepared, will be the legal base of our cooperation and allow our trilateral activities to enter a new stage,” Hasanov noted.
Khidasheli and the other two defence ministers agreed to meet later this summer in Batumi, in Georgia’s Black Sea coast to sign the memorandum.
At a press conference following the trilateral meeting Khidasheli was asked about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, an ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a region in Azerbaijan populated primarily by ethnic Armenians.
Khidasheli said Georgia would not choose between its neighbours.
"In January 2016 I was in Yerevan (Armenia) where I said Azerbaijan and Turkey are Georgia’s strategic partners ... Georgia has a lot of friends. We work with many countries. Today the most important thing for Georgia is peace in the region. We will do our best to contribute to this stability and peace.”
She continued: "Armenia is our neighbour and we don’t have problems with the country. However, I said there is a partnership – the way countries work together.”
"Turkey is a NATO member and Georgia wants to become a NATO member too and this defines our strategic partnership. Armenia made a different choice. It joined the Eurasian Union, where we aren’t going to enter. And this defines the level of our cooperation with Armenia – we are friends, without being strategic partners.”
Khidasheli added there was a major Armenian minority group in Georgia with the same rights as anyone else in the country, which was why cooperation with Armenia was as important as with Azerbaijan or any other country.
Yesterday’s meeting was the fourth trilateral meeting between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey’s top defence officials.
The first official meeting of defence ministers took place on the sideline of the NATO Ministerial in Brussels in June 2014.
Further meetings of the three ministers in Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan in August 2014 and in Georgia's Tbilisi in April 2015, which put forward the planning and execution of joint training exercises in view of protecting the region's strategic energy-transport infrastructure.
At the last meeting, the defence ministers of the regional neighbours gathered in Istanbul on December 17, 2015 to look though the development perspectives of trilateral military ties.