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Timely fire
Material posted: Publication date: 06-08-2014

A bad peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, interrupted periodically by short skirmishes, this time tried to undermine seriously: on the night of 31 July to 1 August on the border of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan resumed fighting with heavy weapons. Both sides bear the loss. The development of this conflict may be the most serious test for Russian policy in the region.

The flash is from the South

Unexpected intensification of the conflict can not be named: on the possible resumption of conflict in hot form was discussed for several years and from different sides. From constantly occurring encounters another aggravation is characterized by two factors: the rapid transition to the use of heavy weapons, including artillery, unprecedented and almost instant recognition by Azerbaijan of a large number of deaths (at least 14 as of August 3, 2014). Assessment experts about the possible prospects of development of the conflict different. Someone thinks that the incident could escalate into a broader clash, someone, on the contrary, believes that the time for dangerous heat is lost.

However, the continuous tensions on the border of two of Russia's neighbors, including Armenia, an ally of Moscow in the CSTO, makes us attentive to what is happening, especially when any movement of Russia in the military sphere responds to acute reaction around the world.

The specifics of the Karabakh conflict is the recognition of the disputed territory. Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh on the territory of which created the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, de jure part of Azerbaijan. However, given the importance of this region to Armenia, any attempt of Baku to the territory of Karabakh is regarded as an attack on Armenia itself.

The state of unstable equilibrium in which there is a region the last 20 years, due to two main factors. On the one hand, clearly demonstrated in the early 1990-ies a higher quality of Armenian military machine in combination with Armenia's membership in CSTO stops Azerbaijan from repetition, at least until the first violin in the military leadership of this country is played by those who participated in the war directly involved.

On the other hand, the growing difference in economic opportunities of Armenia and Azerbaijan gradually affects military capability. Suffice it to say that Azerbaijan's military budget is approaching four billion dollars, is comparable to the overall state budget of Armenia. In these circumstances, if the conflict resumed on a large scale, Armenia will have to rely mainly on military support from Russia, but the political situation "here and now" can greatly complicate the situation.

Flash from the South in the midst of the Ukrainian conflict makes a significant uncertainty for all key players. The US and the EU is interested in stability in Transcaucasia, including for economic reasons, Azerbaijan is considered as one of competitors of Russia in providing fuel to the EU countries — can't afford to rock the situation with unpredictable results.

The same applies to Russia: the conflict in Ukraine has greatly complicated the relations between Moscow and the West, and sharp movements in Transcaucasia may be seen as an attempt of radically breaking up the existing post-Soviet system relations, the consequences of which are also difficult to predict. However the events of recent months have demonstrated that in some cases logic has a very indirect relation to the decisions taken, therefore, to exclude the probability of extension of the conflict impossible.

Deferred exam

A large-scale conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, whether it will be renewed now or after a year or two, threatens to become the most serious challenge to the system of collective security in the post-Soviet space, built under the auspices of Russia.

The Azerbaijani armed forces, as already noted, far exceed the Armenian armed forces, including the army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. However, this superiority does not give any guarantees, just as in the beginning of 1990-ies. However, higher mobilization potential and economic capacities of Azerbaijan allow the country to wage against Armenia protracted war, in which case the only salvation for Yerevan becomes the support of Russia.

The possibility of providing this support, however, can be severely limited. Given the lack of a common border between Russia and Armenia, a key role in case of war, acquires the position of Georgia that covers the transit of military cargo through its territory. In these circumstances, your only real option for support will remain the immediate impact of the Russian Armed forces on the territory of Azerbaijan in accordance with the fourth article of the Treaty on collective security, including with the use of those forces, which Russia has in Armenia (102nd military base in Gyumri). However, the possibility of such exposure is limited by the fact that Azerbaijan can wage war, limiting it to only the territory of Karabakh. This strategy though will provide Stepanakert and Yerevan integrity of the rears, will not qualify a war as an attack on Armenia itself, which is extremely complicate the application of the rules of the CSTO.

However to hide behind this formal reason for intervention, confined itself to verbal protests, would be the worst option for Moscow, especially considering the active re-equipment of the Russian troops in the region in recent years. Material capabilities make it possible to conduct an effective operation "peace enforcement" against any possible opponent in the Caspian sea, and the political retreat will be perceived primarily as moral-psychological unpreparedness to defend from the attack of the allies, who were promised protection. The worst blow to the entire system of the CSTO work, especially in the context of the expected new conflicts in the post-Soviet space.

Caspian solitaire

A large part of the Russian force capabilities to influence the situation in the region is concentrated in the hands of the United strategic command "South", which are subject of the southern military district and included in its composition of the Caspian flotilla. The presence of a flotilla of ships equipped with UCSC — universal shipboard firing complex — allows it to engage ground targets at great distances, up to the Persian Gulf.

In combination with the possibilities of aviation in southern Russia and has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to quickly transfer large aircraft parts from other parts of the country, the existing potential allows for effective remote influence for any purpose, and these tasks are regularly practised during the exercises.

The core of the fleet — two watchdog and six small artillery and small-size missile ships — consists of units of new construction: five ships commissioned in 2011-2014, one in 2006 and 2003, and only one in 1988. In the southern military district is a high concentration of new and upgraded aircraft, including su-27, su-30M2, Mi-28. Today the air force of the southern military district and the Caspian flotilla are equipped with new equipment much better than most of the armed forces of Russia in other regions, and the main unknown is the willingness of Moscow to the use of this potential, or at least to the creation of the opponents of the belief in such readiness.

If we consider the version of the external sources of the Karabakh next exacerbation, one cannot exclude the fact that we are seeing another round of testing Russia's willingness to comply with the assumed role of arbiter in post-Soviet Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Some results can be demonstrated for the first time the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are expected to meet on 8-9 August in Sochi to discuss the Nagorno Karabakh problem.

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