YEREVAN. – Last week U.S. and Russia army chiefs – Joseph Dunford and Valery Gerasmov – held a meeting in Baku.
The meeting was not widely covered by the regional media, but it is difficult to overestimate it in terms of its significance for the entire region, especially when the world is following every move of a new administration in Washington and its policy towards Russia.
This is the first meeting at this level since January 2014, when Gerasimov met with then-chief Martin E. Dempsey in Brussels.
The official statements posted by the American and Russian sides said the military leaders discussed the state of U.S.-Russian military relations and of the international security situation in Europe, the Middle East, and other key regions. The U.S. and Russian militaries have undertaken efforts to improve operational safety of military activities in order to decrease the prospects for crisis and avoid the risk of unintended incidents and agreed to continue communication.
Richard Kauzlarich, professor at George Mason University and former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, believes the meeting between the most senior US and Russian military officers was important “given the new Administration in Washington, and the need to deal with problems”.
“Therefore, the meeting was a welcome sign that the US and Russia understand the importance of open communications between the two militaries,” he said in response to an inquiry by Armenian News-NEWS.am.
Richard Giragosian, director of Armenia-based Regional Studies Center, shares the view that the significant meeting received very little attention in the media. He pointed out several reasons why the meeting is important.
“First, this was not only first meeting at this level since January 2014, when Gerasimov met with then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey in Brussels, but is also the first meeting between Dunford and Gerasimov. It was also a meeting aimed at keeping the “lines of communication” open between both sides, somewhat similar to a Cold War-style “hotline” between the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union,” he told Armenian News-NEWS.am.
Secondly, according to the expert, the significance of the meeting was the fact that Gerasimov is more than the Russia’s chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, but also serves as the First Deputy Minister of Defense, suggesting that the meeting may also be part of the Trump Administration’s attempt to create a new, more cooperative, and less confrontational relationship between the United States and Russia.
Is the venue important?
Asked whether the venue was important, Kauzlarich said the venue is less meaningful in this case.
“Baku seemed to be a compromise location between meeting in Moscow, or Washington, or somewhere in Europe. Both chiefs took advantage of their bilateral meeting to meet separately with senior Azerbaijani officials in Baku. The Azerbaijan government did not organize the meeting nor was it part of the bilateral discussions between the Russian and US military,” he added.
Meanwhile, Giragosian believes that the choice of Baku for the venue, and the decision to have Azerbaijan host the meeting was an indication of the new strategic shift within Azerbaijan in terms of its approach towards Russia.
“In fact, Azerbaijan is increasingly seen in Washington as a country that is more interested and much more active in deepening its ties with Russia than the West. This also hints that Washington may begin to do more to try to “win back” the Azerbaijanis, although with Russia as the number one arms provider for Baku, any such shift in U.S. policy is unlikely to work,” he resumed.