A new round in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia: what should Moscow do?

A new round in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia: what should Moscow do?
A new round in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia: what should Moscow do?
23 November 2021, 16:05
Only recently the last battles of the Karabakh conflict have died down, and new shots are thundering on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The sides habitually accuse each other of provocations, but the fact remains that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has entered a new phase.

Victor Kuzovkov

It is still very difficult to say how far he can go this time, because the battles are already taking place in the Armenian territory, which the Azerbaijanis consider captured from them about a hundred years ago...

For a slightly better understanding of the situation, you will have to make a small excursion into the geography and history of the region. Azerbaijan has an area located outside the native Azerbaijani territory itself - the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Russia, by the way, also has such a region - the Kaliningrad Region. And in order to get to it, we must proceed either through the territory of the Baltic States, or along the Baltic Sea, by ship. For Azerbaijan, however, everything is even more difficult: Nakhichevan has no sea borders, and the road there is possible either directly, through Armenia, or it is necessary to make a detour through Iran. An even more difficult route through Georgia to Turkey is also possible, and from there to Nakhichevan.

Naturally, Azerbaijan is interested in the shortest route to its exclave. And it passes, as we have already found out, through the territory of Armenia. There is even a definition - the Zangezur corridor. This is how the territory of the Syunik region of Armenia is called in Azerbaijan, through which a road once passed, connecting the main territory of the country with Nakhichevan.

A special "charm" of the situation is given by the fact that in Baku Zangezur is considered its territory, illegally annexed by the Armenians about a hundred years ago. That is, formally, territorial claims against Armenia have not yet been put forward. And not formally, the President of Azerbaijan I. Aliyev declares that his state can by force regain the territories seized by the Armenians 101 years ago, if Yerevan does not want to resolve the issue with the Zangezur corridor peacefully.

Formally, Aliyev has some grounds for anger. In the peace agreement signed by Aliyev and Pashinyan with the mediation of V. Putin, it is separately stipulated that Armenia must ensure the safety of transport links between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Refusal by Armenia from this part of the agreement jeopardizes all its provisions. And Yerevan is in no hurry to fulfill its part of the obligations, linking it with the release of prisoners of war. In addition, the format for the implementation of the agreement on transit and transit routes is still not entirely clear. In particular, the statements of the Armenian leadership that Yerevan is not going to provide a transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Turkey at the expense of its sovereignty over part of the territories indicate that the saying “appetite comes with eating” is also true in relation to some states ...

About a year ago, at the height of yet another exacerbation in Karabakh, I already wrote that Moscow is making a huge mistake by allowing Baku to drag Turkey into the conflict and seek a military solution to it without much regard for the Kremlin. But then Moscow's desire not to tie its hands with another war prevailed. Perhaps there were some other interests, because the selfish "pragmatism" of our near-Kremlin "statesmen" should not be discounted in any case. Let me just remind you that at that time the Russian media was actively promoting the idea that we had chosen the wrong ally in the Transcaucasus, that we needed to cooperate with rich Azerbaijan, and poor Armenia was only tying our hands ...

One way or another, at the moment we have what we have. Namely, the military defeat of our ally in the Transcaucasus, virtually complete loss of influence on Azerbaijan, Turkey, which has strengthened its position in the region to the utmost, and Azerbaijan’s readiness, with direct and undisguised support from Ankara, to seek more and more concessions from Armenia, threatening it, otherwise, military aggression. On November 14, military clashes took place on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, during which Armenian units suffered some losses in killed and wounded. In addition, several Armenian servicemen were taken prisoner.

But now I would like to talk about something else. After all, the news media is now overwhelmed with information about who shot at whom. True, sometimes this information contradicts each other, but here we do not forget that on both sides quite qualified people are responsible for disinformation.

Another thing is much more interesting. For example, what should the Kremlin do in this situation? And why is Aliyev so brave - is it just dizziness from success, or is there something big and serious behind it?

Let's start with Aliyev. Strictly speaking, there are only three different reasons for his behavior. First, he has some kind of tacit agreement with the Kremlin and is playing his card, not looking back at Moscow at all. This option looks very dubious, but yes, it probably would explain a lot.

The second option: Aliyev is sure that in the near future Moscow will not have time for the Transcaucasus, which means that it is necessary to make the most of the chance, which may not be presented for another decades. And this already looks much more reliable, in any case, there are enough signs of Russia's preparation for some kind of large and protracted conflict. But perhaps the conflict will not be that big and not very protracted - for example, the winter conflict between Russia and Ukraine expected by some special services seems the most suitable candidate for the role of such troublemaker. And yes, the stakes there will be so high that the Kremlin will have to postpone the Transcaucasian affairs until better times.

Option number three: Aliyev is confident that with Turkey's help he will be able to defeat Armenia, even if Russia comes to her aid. And this is probably the most dangerous situation for Moscow, because in this case it will hardly be possible to avoid a conflict.

All factors are probably being evaluated in Baku. And this is far from only a certain technological and quantitative superiority of the Azerbaijani army over the Armenians. It is also important that logistics in this case is clearly not in favor of Russia, and even Russian units stationed in Armenia on a permanent basis will find themselves in a difficult situation if Ankara is expected to openly take the side of Baku.

In this case, the Kremlin will be faced with the need to somehow resolve the issue of an emergency transfer of troops to Armenia with Georgia. Which, given the current level of relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, seems almost impossible. True, the Iranian route will still remain, but it is longer, more complicated and, most importantly, it can be cut by the successful actions of the Azerbaijanis and Turks just in the Syunik region of Armenia. That is, by breaking through the Zangezur corridor, Azerbaijan not only solves its logistical problems, but at the same time completely cuts off its main enemy from Russia.

For reference: the width of the section of the Armenian-Iranian border, passing just in the area of a possible offensive of the Azerbaijani army, is approximately 40-50 kilometers. And only a madman can seriously count on the reliability of this corridor in the current situation ...

Now a little about what Moscow can do to prevent an escalation of the conflict or somehow stop it if it does flare up. At the same time, we will omit the option “to strike with all the might of our armed forces”: it sounds beautiful, impressive, but in this way the whole long and very expensive game between Moscow and Turkey will be destroyed at once. Of course, in a certain scenario, this is an option, but it is unlikely in the Kremlin that it is considered at least somewhat desirable ...

First of all, one must remember that Armenia is a member of the CSTO, a collective security treaty, of which Moscow is a key participant. And if Russia fails to prove the effectiveness of this defensive alliance, most of its members will have reasonable doubts about whether it is worth staying in it? And this is already undermining the entire security system along the perimeter of the Russian Federation. With all, as they say, following ...

Therefore, we immediately postulate: Moscow cannot allow another military defeat for Armenia, now on its own territory. This means that she will have to look for some options to counter the military ambitions of Ilham Aliyev.

At first glance, everything looks quite obvious - it is necessary to maximize the existing grouping of Russian troops in Armenia, to increase material reserves, to provide the troops with ammunition and rations for a sufficiently long period. In general, it is necessary to do everything so that our group could conduct military operations in complete encirclement for a sufficiently long period of time.

But I am sure that the Ministry of Defense is well aware of this, and it is unlikely that any advice from the outside is needed. The only question is whether the Russian aviation stationed in Armenia will be able to resist the Turkish aviation for a long time and effectively? Because if not, then all efforts will go to dust and Azerbaijan will celebrate another victory ...

True, there is another scenario for the development of events - if Moscow provides combat stability of the Armenian army, the latter may begin to strike at some important infrastructure facilities of Azerbaijan, in particular, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Moreover, this does not require any incredible efforts - OTK Tochka is quite enough. And this, in general, may turn out not only to be an effective negotiating argument, but also simply very beneficial to Moscow - the rise in oil prices will certainly cover all the Kremlin's costs of this war.

It will be possible to think about a small counter-offensive in the Karabakh direction. And it will be extremely painful both for the whole of Azerbaijan and for I. Aliyev personally - he very much “invested” in this victory personally, diligently creating in the media the image of the savior of Azerbaijan. Any defeats in Karabakh are now simply unacceptable for him, and Baku, with all its will, will hardly be able to provide the necessary qualitative and quantitative superiority of its army on the entire border with Armenia.

In addition, Moscow may try to play the Iranian card. Tehran, extremely dissatisfied with Baku's flirtation with Israel and the serious strengthening of Turkey, has already conducted exercises on the border with Azerbaijan, more like a show of force. It is difficult to say whether he will risk confronting Azerbaijan and Turkey alone. But if he is confident in military support from Russia, then he may take a risk. And this is already a very serious threat to Baku ...

One way or another, we must admit that a military solution to the Karabakh issue did not calm the situation in the region, but made it even more complicated. How Moscow will be able to unravel this tangle, and whether it will be able to at all, is still an open question.

But for now, it looks like the coming winter and spring may turn out to be very “fun” for Moscow. But these are the main geopolitical players who have not entered the fray...

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