In the months leading up to that war, Ankara vastly increased its arms exports to Baku, supplying it with armed Bayraktar TB2 drones that Azerbaijan used to devastating effect against Armenian ground forces.
During their visit to Shusha, Erdogan and Aliyev signed the Shusha Declaration on Allied Relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey, which pledges, among other things, to increase the already substantive military cooperation between their two countries. They have, for example, plans to establish a factory in Azerbaijan where they will jointly build armed drones.
Ismail Demir, the chairperson of Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), expressed his view that Turkey and Azerbaijan should act in accordance with the motto “one nation, two states” that they often use to emphasize the close cultural and political bonds between their countries.
“Through systematic joint drills and intensive interactions, the ‘two states, one nation’ have almost become ‘two states, one military,'” noted a recent Jamestown Foundation article.
Aliyev has said that “Azerbaijan will create a smaller version of the Turkish army.” Following the signing of the Shusha Declaration, one analysis noted, this “became official.”
Turkey has established significant defense ties with Ukraine in recent years that includes the joint development and manufacture of “sensitive technologies in defense and aerospace.” It recently delivered TB2 drones to Ukraine’s navy and Ukraine supplied engines for Turkey’s new Bayraktar Akinci drone.
Unlike Ukraine, Azerbaijan doesn’t have a substantial military-industrial base that can help Turkey develop and build such weapons systems. On the other hand, Baku has plenty of energy reserves, which could help fund the R&D for new Turkish weapons systems.
For Azerbaijan, there is a lot Turkey can do to help it further modernize and train its military.
“I think in working with Turkey, Azerbaijan has much to gain in terms of modernizing its military, both in structure as well as equipment,” Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor’s Senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE, told me. “Certainly Azerbaijan will likely increase its purchase of arms and will contribute to some Turkish R&D efforts.”
She pointed out that Turkey’s extensive military cooperation with Azerbaijan and Ukraine is driven by a Turkish imperative to expand its regional and global military relations as well as attract more buyers for its military equipment, particularly its drones.
Furthermore, expanding these defense ties also helps Turkey “put some distance between itself and Russia amid the two countries’ competition for regional influence.”
Dr. Ali Bakir, a Turkey analyst and research assistant professor at the Ibn Khaldon Center in Qatar University, pointed out that there already have been several agreements on military and defense cooperation between Turkey and Qatar in recent years.
“In this sense, the Shusha Declaration is a continuation of an already existing trend,” he told me. “Yet, it gives this cooperation a new push and a more serious framework.”
“One aspect of this cooperation is military-to-military relations and improving the combat readiness of the Azerbaijani army and contributing to the creation of a modern and professional army and special forces,” he added.
Bakir believes that Turkey-Azerbaijan defense cooperation will significantly differ from the “existing model between Turkey and Ukraine.”
“At the current stage, this cooperation can depend on complementary measures where Turkey can contribute significantly in terms of R&D, design, and manufacture of weapons to meet Azerbaijan’s needs while Baku is more capable of financing this effort,” he said.
“At a later stage, Azerbaijan can be an effective partner in joint production, and perhaps this model is the one Ankara also expects from other partners such as Qatar or maybe Libya in the future.”
Turkey and Azerbaijan have held regular joint military exercises in recent years. In June, Azerbaijani Air Force Russian-built MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets and Su-25 Frogfoot attack planes flew to Turkey and participated in the Anatolian Eagle 2021 air force exercise in Konya.
Both countries operate noticeably different military hardware. Turkey’s armed forces have long operated American and European equipment, while the Azerbaijani military still uses a lot of Russian equipment.
Bakir pointed out that, except for its armored forces and modest air force, Azerbaijan has procured a substantial amount of military equipment from Turkey, Israel, Germany, and the United States.
“With the growing indigenous defense industry in Turkey, perhaps Ankara will be able to increase its share of Azerbaijan’s military equipment in the future,” he said.
Hawthorne said that jointly operating hardware of different origins could “hamper the true depth of their potential coordination.”
Nevertheless, she pointed out that Turkey and Azerbaijan “have been actively working together in an increasing amount of joint military drills since the late 2020 ceasefire signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which will slowly improve their compatibility.”
Shortly after signing the Shusha Declaration, Erdogan reportedly did not rule out the possibility of Turkey establishing a military base in Azerbaijan.
“There may be development, expansion here later,” he was quoted saying.
That remark briefly raised eyebrows in Russia. After all, Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state located in the South Caucasus, and Turkey is a member of NATO.
Turkey already briefly stationed six F-16s in Azerbaijan’s Ganja International Airport last year, which remained there during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, but has never had anything resembling a permanent or full-fledged base on Azerbaijani soil.
Russia already has a defense pact with Armenia and a military base in that country. However, it wouldn’t necessarily supply Yerevan with more advanced arms or substantially increase its military presence in that country in response to expanding Turkey-Azerbaijani defense ties or Turkey establishing a base in Azerbaijan. That is because Moscow has long sought to retain cordial ties and working relations with both former Soviet republics.
“I don’t think the direct Russian response to growing ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan will be bolstering ties with Armenia, but rather bolstering ties with Azerbaijan,” Hawthorne said. “Russia is one of the largest suppliers of arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia and has always sought to balance its ties with both countries.”
“I think increasing Turkish influence in Azerbaijan would likely spur Russian efforts to make sure its own ties with Azerbaijan are functional and remain useful to Russia, rather than stoking a proxy conflict via supplying more advanced arms to Armenia.”