Armenia is in danger of being the victim of the approaching Caucasian geopolitical End Game: beginning with the Nagorno-Karabakh war of 2020. Nevertheless, the present situation does not pose any geostrategic threat for Moscow.
The 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh war in autumn 2020 ended in a massive defeat for the Armenian armed forces. Mediation attempts – even from the US – failed on several occasions, and hostilities only came to an end after Putin, Erdoğan and Aliyev had reached an understanding. In view of the hopeless military situation, the Armenian government had no option but to accept the agreement.
Moscow sent a 2,000-man contingent to Nagorno-Karabakh to keep the peace and protect the Armenian population in an area cut off from the Armenian Republic. However, despite Russian presence, exchange of fire and open hostilities has continued for the last two years with no apparent end to military activity.
On the 12th of September the Azerbaijani army carried out massive attacks along the eastern Armenian border. It is clear that the victory in Nagorno-Karabakh was only the first part of Ankara´s and Baku`s plan to ensure permanent direct access to the province of Nakhchivan. At present, Nakhchivan is cut off from Azerbaijan by Armenian territory and achieving access is of great strategic importance for Baku as well as for Ankara.
Negotiate Peace and Simultaneously Attack
Aggressors as a rule deny any intention of military attack, or claim to have been provoked by their enemy. The Baku government explained their units were in action to counteract serious subversive Armenian activities. The Moscow correspondent of the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote of the lack of credibility of this claim. “In the past weeks Baku increased the number of troops on the eastern border of the Armenian Republic and raised the readiness of its troops. The Azerbaijani Defence ministry had justified this with possible Armenian provocation: evidence that he was preparing the ground for the escalation of military activities and winding up the propaganda machine.”
It is clear that a state feeling militarily strong could provoke a war. But in this case, it seems suicidal for a state which had just clearly lost a war to want to provoke a militarily superior neighbour.
The 44-day war had taken at least 4,000 Armenian soldiers’ lives and left over 11,000 injured. For a country of only 3 million this was a great loss, more so taking into account that one million Armenian citizens live outside Armenia in Russia, the EU and worldwide.
The actions of the Aliyev government follow the well-known pattern of the Turkish government. The necessity of peace was constantly proclaimed and discussed but, in the end, the military option was chosen to push through an expansionist agenda. That Baku – encouraged by its ally in Ankara – wishes to take advantage of a favourable moment and to build on its military success of autumn 2020 is obvious. Military experts also assess the actions as an Azerbaijani attempt to create “facts” under the cover of the war in Ukraine, and at a time when Russia is facing its first setbacks.
Protector Without Power
The stationing of 2,000 Russian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh was, and is, a difficult logistic exercise. Armenia has no land connection to Russia. There is only one road leading through Georgia but this road cannot be used for Russian military purposes. The railway connection from Russia through Georgia is, since the Georgian-Russian conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetian, no longer usable, which leaves only air transport to support and supply the Russian troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, the supply of the Russian Peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh from the airfield is only possible along a road through mountainous terrain. Therefore, in the event of any escalation of the conflict in the region, Moscow would face challenges in supplying, let alone strengthening, its forces quickly. In view of these military and logistic considerations it is hardly believable that Moscow’s 2,000-man force can be seen as strengthening his military position in the region.
The agreement reached in 2020 foresaw the troops remaining in the area for 5 years with a possibility of extension only with the agreement of Baku and Yerevan. This latest example of Azerbaijani aggression was directed not at the isolated Nagorno-Karabakh, the attacks concentrated on the border area between Armenia and Azerbaijan: almost within view of the Russian peacekeeping forces. The leadership in Baku was relatively certain that in view of the setbacks of the Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Moscow would be very unlikely to commit more resources to support Armenia especially due to the logistic restraints.
Russia may be described in the Western media as the protective force of Armenia, but recently it has become clear that the Armenians cannot rely on their “Protector”. The Russian Defence Minister, Sergej Schoigu, assured his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian, that “Moscow would take all steps necessary to protect Armenia’s interests and stabilise the situation.” However, in reality, none of the measures implemented in the past years have been able to prevent neither the 2020 great Azerbaijani attack on Nagorno-Karabakh nor the present attack on the Armenian Republic. It is most likely that Moscow was aware of the forthcoming attack and was either unable or unwilling to prevent it, or both.
After the attack on Armenian territory, the Pashinyan government requested help from the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation). Members include Armenia, Russia, White Russia Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It was simply naïve to think that this loose alliance would rush to defend Armenia and does not reflect the political developments in central Asia. Because, only a few days after the Armenian appeal for assistance from the CSTO, two members of the alliance, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, began intense fighting. The CSTO is simply a mock alliance built and controlled by Moscow. The Armenian government was simply assured that a delegation would be sent to the area to provide an overview of the situation. When one considers that with the exception of Kazakhstan all other CSTO members are involved in military conflicts, it is clear that this Moscow led alliance is simply not in the position to intervene militarily.
Part two of this article will be published tomorrow.
*Toros Sarian is an author from Istanbul and lives in Germany. He writes about the history of the Armenian Genocide and political issues concerning Turkey, Kurdistan, Armenia and Germany.