Large-scale fighting has begun in Nagorno-Karabakh with the Azerbaijani army starting an offensive on the night of April 2nd, 2016 across the whole line of contact with the armed forces of Armenia, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. After the day of fighting it was ceased, but may resume at every moment. Artillery, aviation and tanks were used, with both sides blaming each other for the escalation of the conflict, but the features of the Azerbaijani attack indicates a pre-planned operation. The age-old conflict between the two peoples of the region: Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis, related to the Turks, broke out with renewed vigor.
Why Armenia is not interested in the conflict
The resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is most dangerous for Armenia, which was previously quite satisfied with the status quo. The conflict of the late 80’s early 90’s resulted favorably for Armenia. Armenia could keep the conflict frozen for an indefinite time if it needed to. In fact, the territory has been under Armenian control.
Armenia had no reason to provoke Azerbaijan; after the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh in the 90’s, Azerbaijan has considerably strengthened and modernized its army. Money from the sale of oil and gas helped to accomplish this mission, yet Armenia does not possess these resources. In terms of the size of the army, including reservists, the number of people, the economic potential of Azerbaijan exceeds Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic combined. This means that the war is risky for the Armenian side. In addition, Armenia will be forced to accept thousands of refugees, (Azerbaijan to take no one, because no Azerbaijanis would leave Nagorno-Karabakh), who will became a heavy burden on the social system of the country.
The dangers for Azerbaijan
For Azerbaijan, the current geopolitical situation is not the most favorable for the beginning of the war, due to the allied relations between Russia and Armenia. The only thing Azerbaijan can hope – Russia will not interfere in the conflict if the fighting does not go beyond the boundaries of Nagorny Karabakh. In the event of a conflict with Russia, Azerbaijan is doomed to be defeated like Georgia in 2008. But the risk of turning of the conflict into a full-scale regional war is very high.
Why is war against Russia’s interest?
Among the major geopolitical players, the resumption of the conflict is the most unprofitable for Russia. Russia is the guarantor of peace in the South Caucasus and Armenia’s ally in the CSTO. In the event of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia must help Armenia if the latter requests it. However, in recent years, Russia has been maintaining good relations with Armenia, and moved closer to Azerbaijan to such an extent that Russia began to supply weapons to the Azeris. War means the collapse of the old architecture of international relations, which Russia has painstakingly been building in the region.
On the territory of Armenia, Russian military bases are located. In the event of an escalation of the war, Russia may be involved in it, which is also not in the interests of this country which is already occupied by the war in Syria and the conflict in Ukraine. At least Russia will be forced to end an active policy in Syria.
The dangers for Turkey
Turkey, as a regional player may be able to derive some benefit from the conflict to its east. First of all it would force Russia to lessen its attention to the Syrian issue, which would strengthen Turkey’s own position in this matter. In addition, Azerbaijan starting the war undermined its own relations with Russia, which means that it will have no choice, regardless of the outcome of the war, except to warm ties with Turkey. It is significant that earlier the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Cavusoglu, said that his country would support the “liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, i.e., aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the same time if the war goes beyond the borders of Karabakh, this carries risks for Turkey. Turkey will have to start providing significant assistance to Azerbaijan. Given the civil war in the Kurdish areas of Turkey itself, it will distract Turkish attention from Syria.
How profitable is the war for the US?
The only country that is interested in unfreezing the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in turning it into a full-scale war, which can drag in Russia as well as Turkey, is the United States. Once it became clear that Russia had managed to withdraw some troops from Syria, and with the help of others to take Palmyra, United States stepped up efforts to eliminate Russia from the game. A bloody conflict in close proximity to Russian borders is best thing suited for this objective. The US is also interested in the weakening of Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict. That gives the US an opportunity to make full use of the Kurdish factor.
If Russia will support Armenia, the United States will finally be able to get control of Azerbaijan. If Russia will not support Armenia, it will be used as an argument for the reorientation of the country to the United States. Unlike Turkey, the United States interacts with both sides of the conflict and in any case will not remain a loser.
During the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was in Washington. The day before he met US Vice President Joe Biden. He was the last high-ranking official, who spoke with Aliyev before his army began the offensive. During the meeting, the President of Azerbaijan stressed that the position of Barack Obama regarding the inadmissibility of the status quo in Nagorno-Karabah is important
Later, Aliyev said that he welcomes the peaceful resolution of the conflict, but on the basis of the settlement of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The behavior of Aliyev testifies that he received support from foreign forces, primarily the United States. Earlier on March 15th, he made a visit to Ankara, where this issue was also likely to have been discussed.
It is significant that the US was not quick to condemn Azerbaijan for the start up of hostilities, nor did they influence the president of this country against such a move, who was in Washington at that time. As for Turkey, the president of this country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressed his condolences over the deaths of Azerbaijani soldiers. Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz strongly supported a “fair position” of Azerbaijan. Objectively, the war could work against the interests of this power as well, but the current Turkish leadership has repeatedly proved that it can be led by the United States against its country own real interests.