The government of energy-rich Azerbaijan has spared few opportunities in recent years to flex its military muscle. So, for a military parade on June 26 commemorating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the first independent Azerbaijani army, it really pushed the boat out (as well as the troops, tanks, mobile missile launchers, and fighter jets.) It was Azerbaijan's first military parade since 1992.
The timing is no accident. Azerbaijan has tripled its defense budget to $2 billion in the past three years, and President Ilham Aliyev is hardly subtle about his intent: to reclaim from Armenia control over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven neighboring districts of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian forces -- once and for all, and by means fair or foul. "We're continuing negotiations with Armenia," Aliyev proclaimed at the parade's outset. "But they have been going on for a very long time, and the people are tired of them. They can't go on forever." (Negotiators from the OSCE Minsk Group arrive in Yerevan on June 27 for a fresh round of talks on Karabakh, and may find the Armenian side in a jittery mood.)
Aliyev may also be hoping to make an impression further afield. Baku has been coy about its NATO ambitions, perhaps fearing backlash from its hotheaded neighbor Russia, but a solid display of weaponry and manpower won't be overlooked in Brussels, where Azerbaijan is close to implementing an Individual Partnership Action Plan with the Western military alliance. The vast majority of Azerbaijan's military equipment is still of Russian origin, but defense spenders are starting to branch out: this week's parade featured, among its new purchases, 10 sparkling-new Israeli drones.
-- Daisy Sindelar