on the silk road

Armenia, Azerbaijan: Russia, the West and Nagorno Karabakh
March 8, 2008, 7:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

(Stratfor)–March 5, 2008–

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of stoking unrest in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after a gunbattle  that killed 15 people March 5. Azerbaijan is using its petroleum wealth to arm itself for a potential conflict with Armenia over the separatist region, which on paper belongs to Azerbaijan but in reality is controlled by Armenia. The West does not want to see this conflict re-emerge, but Russia does — to a point.
Following a gunbattle in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan said 15
soldiers were killed and it accused its neighbor Armenia on March 5 of deliberately stoking
unrest in the breakaway region. If true, 15 dead would mark the worst clash in recent years
between Muslim Azerbaijan and Orthodox Christian Armenia, which technically remain at
Renewed conflict in the disputed enclave would displease the West, but would suit Russia
just fine unless Azerbaijan scores a decisive win — something becoming increasingly likely,
however, as Azerbaijan converts its petroleum wealth into armaments.
Pro-Armenian forces seized the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in a war in
the 1990s. The two sides have remained in a tense deadlock over the territory ever since, but
the conflict has been relatively dormant since a 1994 cease-fire. Technically,
Nagorno-Karabakh is still part of Azerbaijan, even though Armenia controls it. International
pressure, lack of support from every nation but Russia and Iran, and fear of Azeri retaliation
Armenia, Azerbaijan: Russia, the West and Nagorno-Karabakh | Stratfor http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/armenia_azerbaijan_russia_west_a…
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have kept Armenia from annexing the territory. Azerbaijan has been held back from retaking
the land due to pressure from the West and the Azeri military’s relative weakness.
But the situation slowly has been changing as Azerbaijan has grown stronger and richer
following the 2006 completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western
companies developed to feed oil to Europe. The BTC led to a more pro-Western Azerbaijan,
and the tremendous new wealth it generated has helped the country increase its defense
spending from $175 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion at the start of 2008.
This, of course, has Armenia more than nervous, but the much poorer country can barely
increase its spending to follow Azerbaijan’s lead. In the past year, Armenia has increased its
defense spending by 20 percent, from $125 million to $150 million — almost all of which was
spent on boosting its defensive capabilities.
The Azeris constantly speak about wanting to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by force, and
now actually are closing in on the ability to do so. And there is another force pushing for a
conflict: Russia.
Following the 2004 eviction from its military bases in nearby Georgia after the Rose
Revolution, Russia has been slowly withdrawing its vast military equipment from Azerbaijan’s
and Armenia’s fellow country in the Caucasus. Officially, Russia said the last of its equipment
was removed from Georgia in the summer of 2007 and much of the hardware was shipped
back to Russia. But quite a bit of it was relocated to Russia’s large base in Gyumri, Armenia.
Uncertainty remains about the relocation of 40 armored vehicles and 20 tanks; Russia says
they are back home, but Azerbaijan suspects they are in Armenia.
Armenia has accused Moscow of helping fuel Azerbaijan’s military buildup. It alleges that
quite a bit of the military equipment from Georgia found its way to Azerbaijan.
Russia has myriad reasons to fuel another conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. First, the Kremlin is
still smarting after the West recognized Kosovar independence from Serbia despite Russia’s
and Serbia’s vigorous objections. In the run-up to Kosovar secession, Russia insisted that the
breakaway province’s independence would cause flare-ups in other separatist regions. A
renewed scuffle over Nagorno-Karabakh would represent a major told-you-so for Moscow.
Second, Russia is very interested in destabilizing Azerbaijan and in having the West become
displeased with Azerbaijan. The United States and Europe have warned Azerbaijan not to
restart conflict with Armenia — especially the United States, which has a very large Armenian
diaspora with a great deal of clout in Washington. During an election year, U.S. politicians
cannot afford to offend constituencies, so they are liable not to ignore pressure from
Armenia, Azerbaijan: Russia, the West and Nagorno-Karabakh | Stratfor http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/armenia_azerbaijan_russia_west_a…
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Armenian-Americans. The West worries that renewed conflict could destabilize their
investments in Azeri energy infrastructure.
Third and last, Russia would just relish the opportunity that renewed conflict would create for
it to sweep in as the great mediator. Moscow repeatedly has said it wants to send troops,
perhaps as part of a peacekeeping force, into Nagorno-Karabakh. More fighting would give it
the perfect opportunity to do so.
Ultimately, having the southern Caucasus in flames greatly increases Russia’s leverage with
every player previously mentioned. However, Moscow does have one concern: what if
Azerbaijan actually wins the fight against Armenia? A victory by Baku would be a palpable
blow against Russian power, allowing Azerbaijan to continue on its Westward push without
fear of Moscow.


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