Azerbaijan has been careful to isolate the war in the Nagorna-Karabakh region from a wider conflict with Armenia.
https://www.jpost.com-By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On the surface, the conflict is similar to many that resulted from changes in the last century. Whether the end of the Soviet Union or end of colonialism, major wars after the Second World War often erupted as large powers fought for control using local proxies or gave up control of territory. Now we are many decades removed from that era, but the simmering conflicts, whether between Israel and the Palestinians or divided Cyprus, Kashmir or in Ukraine, result from these complexities.
Baku says it has waited decades for the international community to do something regarding its demands. Nothing has been done and the world is changing. Turkey, Russia, Iran and China are rising and US global hegemony and the concepts of a liberal international rules-based order, are eroding. That means countries that want things need to use their militaries to get what they want, because no one is going to rein them in, except regional powers.
Iran and Russia have called for an end to fighting but both have a relatively balanced approach of working with both sides. Turkey wants Azerbaijan to be empowered, partly so Turkey can sell its drones abroad after showing how well they work, and also so Turkey can appear strong and show it helped win another war. Turkey already is involved in war in Syria and Libya, and it wants to use Syrian rebels it recruited as mercenaries to distract them from Turkey’s dealings with Russia in Syria.
Azerbaijan has been careful to isolate the war in the Nagorna-Karabakh region from a wider conflict with Armenia. On the face of it this seems counterfactual, how can you fight Armenia in one place but not another. Azerbaijan has also said that Armenia is increasing its attacks inside Azerbaijan, using missiles to target cities such as Ganja, Barda and other places. This means that Azerbaijan is saying it is acting with restraint by not shelling Armenian cities, but concentrating on shelling towns inside Nagorna-Karabkah. For civilians on the ground on both sides, this difference may be meaningless as they are being shelled with impunity. Both sides claim the other is doing it, video shows that both are culprits.
Azerbaijan denies that Turkey sent Syrian rebel mercenaries, mostly Syrian Turkmen, to fight for Azerbaijan. Armenia, Iran, Russia, Syria and others, as well as many global media, indicate the Syrians were sent.
Azerbaijan can say it has a victory already, it has been able to make slow, but steady, progress on the ground. Using the latest technology, including what foreign and local accounts say are drones and loitering munitions from Israel, it has decimated Armenian tanks and artillery sites. Week two of the war brings both the Russians, Iranians, and Turks deeper into the conflict, with high-level foreign visits and statements. Azerbaijan’s challenge is that it has a maximalist approach and wants to take back much more area than it has already. Turkey is also encouraging it not to stop.
Meanwhile, Armenia has sought to bring the war to the attention of the world. It highlights the shelling of civilians in Stepanakert. It has also tried to pressure Israel to stop defense sales to Azerbaijan. Baku wants to show it can achieve deterrence and then enter negotiations with a stronger hand. However Baku’s stance on the Turkish mercenaries makes it appear that while it says it doesn’t need foreign fighters that Turkey may have pressured it to receive them. This could be Ankara’s way of getting a foothold inside Nagorna-Karabakh. Videos and images show the fighters were deployed near the Iranian border. Iran has demanded that no “terrorists” be sent to Azerbaijan by Turkey. This could serve as a headache and embarrassment for Baku while only serving Turkey, Iran and Russia’s interests to involve themselves more in the conflict.
Armenia continues to encourage the international community to get involved and push a ceasefire. Short of achieving that, the escalation with missile attacks deeper into Azerbaijan or threats on oil, gas and electric infrastructure could escalate the war. Azerbaijan would be forced to respond if Armenian strikes hit sensitive infrastructure.
So far, the war was mostly compartmentalized around Nagorna-Karabkah. Days of fighting and shelling would follow relatively peaceful periods along some sectors of the front line. In the end, Moscow’s approach is to wait until Armenia begs it to intervene and then Moscow and Ankara will seek to cut a deal.
Turkey is practicing with the Russian-made S-400 system this month, and it appears that this is a signal to Moscow as well. Good tests might mean more purchases of the system. For Russia that is a prize as well. Little, poor and isolated Armenia may have to wait for Moscow if Moscow judges the S-400 sales to be more important than the war. Either way, Russia’s TASS media just interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin and noted he is working all the time, rarely taking a day off, to make sure Russia is as strong as it can be to face these kinds of situations. Russia will want to swoop in from a position of strength.
Since the US and EU are not deeply involved in the conflict and don’t seem to care much, beyond some statements, the Russians, Iranians and Turkey can continue to watch and hope that absent of escalation, the conflict can simmer on another week. Azerbaijan must decide if its state-of-the-art munitions, such as the Israeli Lora missile, Harop and Harpy drones and other weapons will achieve more progress or if Baku can celebrate a victory by showing it got back dozens of villages and several hundred square kilometers of land.