A few thoughts about the horrifying developments in #NagornoKarabakh this morning. A far away place most know little about - but a flashpoint that drags in Russia and Turkey on opposing sides and has big implications for energy security. ()
Tensions between ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh and Azerbaijan are nothing new. Low-level shelling of border villages and sniper hits on each other’s forces are common. But today’s attack is *far* bigger, striking at urban centres like the capital Stepanakert (~60,000 ppl).
No doubt that Azerbaijan has the upper hand in terms of high-tech military kit. But Armenians know every nook and cranny of the mountainous region - lakes, cliffsides, valleys etc. It’s similar to the US Army/Vietcong struggle in Vietnam (not the best analogy by a fair one).
To offer an anecdotal example, on the drive into Stepanakert one can see large cables stretched out across the valley, from mountain to mountain. They’re there to stop bombers stooping low enough to avoid radar systems. The Armenian air defence is solid.
The terrain makes a land invasion very difficult. Armenian forces hold all the cards in terms of vantage points from mountains. When I visited the frontline a few years back, the scale of the minefields on the frontier between the two sides was vast. Land invasion implausible.
Armenia and Karabakh are highly prepared to respond. Martial law and a national draft will be announced imminently and all local Karabakh men are already assigned to and train regularly with battalions. Azerbaijan will rely on aerial methods.
Armenia has always been clear that, should Azerbaijan launch a major incursion, they reserve the right to detonate the South Caucasus Pipeline that links Azeri gas to the Turkish network. Consequences unimaginable.
Developments will likely have been met with fury in Russia (which has troops stationed in Karabakh), which has often been viewed as the guarantor of stability locally. Expect substantial pressure from Putin on Aliyev to de-escalate ASAP.
Turkey has already weighed in behind Azerbaijan in a spirited manner. The best we can hope for in the hours ahead is some kind of accommodation being reached by Putin and Erdogan to quell tensions. Not the two most edifying interlocutors - but the only game in town.
For President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, this conflict is a convenient way to boost his domestic standing - akin to Galtieri in Argentina re: the Falklands. Falling oil prices have cut off his ability to sustain his dictatorship by public spending largesse.
There’s no advantage for this conflict for Armenia. The Pashinyan govt has tried desperately to focus its attention on domestic economic/political reforms rather than Karabakh issues. Conflict takes them back to square one.