Analysis by Emil Sanamyan
The Trump Administration has substantially ramped up security assistance to Azerbaijan, amounting to more than $100 million in fiscal years (FY) 2018-19, according to budget data compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor, part of the Center for International Policy, a Washington think tank. The assistance is offered in the context of U.S. policy to increase pressure on Iran and focuses on Azerbaijan’s Iranian border, but it also has implications for Armenia.
According to the data, under Section 333 “Building Partner Capacity” programs implemented by the Department of Defense (DoD), Azerbaijan was due to receive $58.6 million in FY 2018 and $42.9 million in FY2019. By comparison U.S. security aid to Azerbaijan in FY 2016-17 did not exceed $3 million a year.
As DoD notified Congress on April 27, 2018, it was spending $47.5 million on Azerbaijan’s “Southern Border Security: communications, electronics, construction, maritime interdiction equipment, and vehicles,” $11.1 million on “Maritime Security for the Capsian (sic!) Sea: communications, electronics, construction, maritime interdiction equipment, and vehicles,” and $80,000 on “human rights training.”
The U.S. has long provided more military assistance to Azerbaijan than to Armenia, but the contrast has increased since last year’s change of government in Armenia. According to the Security Assistance Monitor, Armenia received $4.2 million in U.S. security assistance in FY 2018 (year that ended in October 2018) with $2.8 million* planned for FY 2019 and $2.1 million for FY2020. It is unclear if this reduction is related to Armenia sending a de-mining contingent to Syria, as part of a larger Russian military presence there.
As U.S. assistance for Azerbaijan’s border security increased last year, so did the budget of Azerbaijan’s Border Guards Service (BGS), from $90 million in 2018 to $116 million in 2019. Also, last year BGS took over responsibility for part of the Azerbaijani-Armenian frontline duties from the Defense Ministry, allowing the latter to free up forces to be used elsewhere on the Line of Contact.
U.S. law, known as Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, prohibits assistance to Azerbaijan unless it “is important to Azerbaijan’s border security; and will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.”
Azerbaijan’s Border Guard and other U.S.-assisted military units have taken part in hostilities against Armenian forces. Elements of the Border Guards that maintain the Israeli-made Harop attack drones likely took part in April 2016 fighting, killing 15 Armenian volunteers and servicemen. Separately, the U.S.-trained personnel from 52nd Special Forces brigade and 641st Naval Special Warfare Unit played central role in the April 2016 fighting and a number of them committed atrocities against Armenian civilians and military personnel.
While the security situation on the Line of Contact has generally been calm since the 2016 fighting, occasional cease-fire violations continue to be reported. Thus, on July 16-17 Azerbaijani forces opened fire towards border villages of Elpin and Chiva in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor province.
*This post was updated with figures for the Trump Administration’s security assistance to Armenia requests in FY2019 and FY2020.