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South Caucasus: A battle of wills and corridors

By Yeghia Tashjian | The Cradle | December 30, 2022

On 12 December, under the pretext of environmentalism, dozens of state-backed “eco-activists” from Azerbaijan blocked the only land corridor connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The blockade created a humanitarian crisis for the 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, cutting them off from the outside world. This is not the first time Baku has taken such a provocative action. Azerbaijan has long been pushing for the creation of the “Zangezur corridor” to connect itself to close ally Turkiye through southern Armenia, thereby cutting off the strategic Armenia-Iran border.

Tehran has opposed this project and has engaged in military exercises on its border with Azerbaijan. In October, the Iranians opened a consulate in the city of Kapan in southern Armenia as a warning to Baku and its regional allies.

Blocking the Lachin corridor

Despite this, Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkiye, has continued to pursue its goal, which has included blocking the road where Russian peacekeepers are stationed in the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Map of Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict zones (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

In July 2022, Baku amended a contract with British company Anglo Asian Mining PLC, transferring three new mining sites inside Azerbaijan to the firm. One of these areas is located in the eastern part of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Martakert region, an area rich in gold, copper, and silver mines.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population refused Azerbaijan’s efforts to send in monitoring groups, believing the move would give Baku control over the region’s economy and eventually lead to its annexation. In retaliation, Baku sent “environmentalists” to block the only corridor connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Social media users have identified Azerbaijani state employees amid some of these “environmentalists” who periodically try to provoke Russian peacekeepers. The blockade has caused a humanitarian disaster in the region, with thousands of civilians unable to access basic necessities like medication and food via the only road connecting them to the outside world.

To compound tensions, Anglo-Asian Mining sent a letter to leading international organizations and states demanding that the “illegal exploitation” of the mines in Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenians be stopped. And yet Moscow continues to take a passive position, despite being a targeted party in the melee.

The Battle of Corridors

The blockade of the Lachin corridor did not come as a surprise, having been openly discussed in Azerbaijani media.

The only surprise was Russia’s inability to resolve the crisis. Earlier this month, Turkiye’s defense minister Hulusi Akar called on Armenia to “grasp the opportunity and respond positively to Turkiye’s and Azerbaijan’s peace calls” during joint military drills with Azerbaijan near the Iranian border.

He also commented on the “Zangezur corridor,” claiming that it was Baku’s “sincerest wish” to re-establish connections in the region and ensure “a comprehensive normalization throughout the region, including the relations between Azerbaijan-Armenia and Turkiye-Armenia.” Akar also vowed that Turkiye would continue to support Azerbaijan’s “righteous cause” against Armenia.

But on the second day of the protests organized by Azerbaijanis and the blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani media outlets made their intentions clear.

They called for the replacement of the commander of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, Andrey Volkov, and for the control of the Lachin corridor to be transferred to Azerbaijan, along with the “full restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty in the territories under the control of the peacekeepers.”

Some Azerbaijani activists also called for the removal of Russian forces and their replacement with UN-mandated forces.

Removal of Russian peacekeepers

It is unclear if Baku itself is willing to employ this language and demand the removal and replacement of Russian peacekeeping forces. According to some Azerbaijani experts, Baku is currently against the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers by force, as this could lead to the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the ethnic cleansing of Armenian Christians, which could tarnish President Ilham Aliyev’s image in the west and potentially result in US-EU economic sanctions.

Instead, Baku prefers to have the Russians stay, but in a restrictive capacity. It is easier for Azerbaijan to deal with a weak Russia, rather than with the Europeans, as they are familiar with the “Russian mentality,” says one expert. This suggests that Azerbaijan may prefer to continue using the Lachin corridor as a tool for negotiating with Moscow, rather than risking the removal of Russian forces.

Another Azerbaijani expert agreed that the current crisis is essentially between Azerbaijan and Russia – that the latter is unable to fulfill its “peacekeeping mission” and prevent the “Armenians of Karabakh from exploiting the natural resources in the region.”

But he also argues that the crisis is less about the mining and exploitation of resources, and more about pressuring the Russians to open the “Zangezur corridor,” which connects Azerbaijan proper to its Nakhichevan exclave, and lies on Iran’s strategic border with Armenia.

According to the expert, “Azerbaijan wants additional guarantees that it will have a safe connection with Turkiye, in exchange for Karabakh’s safe connection to Armenia.”

The story gets more complicated. In December, Azerbaijani media accused Armenians of inviting Iranian military experts to train Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-defense forces. The reports claim Iranians crossed the Lachin corridor and entered the territories controlled by Russian peacekeepers.

Despite Baku’s continuous barbs and provocations, it appears that Azerbaijan’s goal is not to fully remove or replace Russian peacekeepers, but rather to control their mission, monitor transit in the Lachin corridor, and use the corridor as a pressure card on Yerevan to open a “corridor” in Syunik linking Azerbaijan to Turkiye.

Therefore, from Azerbaijan’s perspective, the future of the Lachin corridor is now tied to the fate of the “Zangezur corridor.”

The view from Tehran

According to Dr. Ehsan Movahedian, researcher and instructor at the Allameh Tabataba’i University of Tehran, “the Republic of Azerbaijan is seeking a new adventure in the Caucasus region, and this issue requires diplomatic steps from the Islamic Republic of Iran and should be warning for the military authorities (in Tehran).”

One Iranian media outlet argues that if Stepanagert (the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh) falls:

“Unpleasant scenarios can be imagined for the South Caucasus region and its surrounding areas, including Iran. Removing an obstacle such as Nagorno-Karabakh paves the way for occupying Armenian territory and changing the map of the region, and in the long term for security attacks on the northwestern regions of Iran.”

The analyst, Mohammad Hossein Masumzadeh, says the only solution to halt Azerbaijan’s aggression “is offensive measures instead of the defensive approach governing the country’s regional policy in order to avoid irreparable risks.”

Some Iranian experts and former diplomats believe that the developments in the South Caucasus are related to domestic developments in Iran, where many ethnic Azeris, backed by Ankara and Baku, have called for separatist aspirations to dismantle the state from within.

Iran is concerned that the spread of Turkish influence on its northern border could impact its domestic politics in the future, as Azerbaijan has openly called for the “unification of Southern Azerbaijan (northern Iran) to the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

These do not appear to be empty threats. On 29 November, the “Organization for the Protection of the Rights of South Azerbaijanis” was established in Switzerland, announcing that it will submit documents and information to international organizations, including the UN, regarding the “rights of people in the Azerbaijani Province of Iran”.

On 2 December, the representative of “South Azerbaijan” at the UN, Araz Yurdseven, defended the idea of the independence of “South Azerbaijan” and accused Iran of committing “murders against the Iranian Azeris.”

Is the region heading for a new escalation?

Interestingly, many European and Azerbaijani experts viewed Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s refusal to sign the final document of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO ) as a sign of Russian weakness, calling it “an unprecedented event that had never happened before.”

The CSTO is a Eurasian military alliance consisting of six post-Soviet states, which include Armenia, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

There are concerns that the region could be headed towards a new escalation. Azerbaijan has recently invited Turkish F-16 fighter jets to the region, which is being viewed as a preparation for conflict. The last time Baku invited the Turkish jets was in 2020, weeks before its war with Armenia.

Azerbaijan is also pressuring Russia to renegotiate the terms of their 10 November 2020 trilateral statement, which states that only Russian peacekeepers are responsible for controlling the Lachin corridor.

Azerbaijan is linking the blockade of the Lachin corridor to the opening of the Zangezur one. If Russia agrees to these concessions, it could lead to the isolation of Armenia, threaten its territorial integrity, and block an Iranian strategic border.

This would also shift the regional balance of power towards Turkiye, as Iran risks acting alone against Turkish-Azerbaijani pan-Turkic aspirations, which could eventually threaten Iran’s national security interests both regionally and domestically.

December 30, 2022 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Biden administration sponsors yet another campaign against Orbán

Free West Media | November 3, 2022

The US government has opened a new chapter in the propaganda and disinformation war against Hungary. It now supports an allegedly “independent” media portal, whose sponsors, however, make it quite easy to see the goals which are being pursued against the country.

According to its own statements, the Internews platform focuses “on promoting a strong independent media sector” in Hungary. There will be further activities in Armenia, Georgia, Poland, Romania and the Ukraine. The aim is to “resist powerful interests trying to manipulate, isolate or control the press”.

The US embassy recently even produced a video listing Hungarian politicians and journalists who have allegedly made “anti-American” statements by name. Essentially these voices either criticized globalist policies to foment the Ukraine war or spoke out against the futility of sanctions.

The list of sponsors for the news portal is revealing. On it one will find, among other things, the well-known Open Society Foundations (OSF) by George Soros, the Rockefeller Foundation and Freedom House, which is financed by the US government. US-based global tech giants like Facebook and Google are also among the backers.

Those in the know recall that Internews is not the US government’s first attempt to reshape the Hungarian media scene. As early as 2017, the US State Department launched a support program right before the elections for “independent Hungarian media in the countryside”. At the time, the government in Budapest accused the US State Department of interfering in Hungarian domestic politics. The programme was later de facto scrapped, presumably because ex-President Donald Trump valued good relations with Hungary.

Under the Biden administration, however, “democracy” exports are back in fashion. Just a few months ago, the Hungarian opposition’s prime ministerial candidate caused a scandal when he admitted that he had received a substantial sum of money for his election campaign from a US foundation.

November 3, 2022 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Resuming of Azeri-Armenian conflict would be quite suitable for the political West

Baku is trying to use the current geopolitical situation to fulfill its long-term goals

By Drago Bosnic | September 13, 2022

Over the last 24 hours, fighting broke out in multiple areas along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The conflict has escalated enough for Yerevan to ask its CSTO allies, in particular Russia, to intervene. This has been revealed just hours after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held a late-night telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Armenian government has since confirmed it has requested Russian military assistance to repel Azeri aggression and shelling, according to an official statement:

“During the meeting, further steps were discussed to counter the aggressive actions of Azerbaijan against the sovereign territory of Armenia that began at midnight. In connection with the aggression against the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, it was decided to officially appeal to the Russian Federation in order to implement the provisions of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, as well as to the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the UN Security Council.”

Armenia is basing its official request on the Collective Security Treaty Organization military pact it has with Russia and four other former Soviet republics (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Within the framework of its military cooperation with Yerevan, Russia previously sent a 2000-strong peacekeeping force to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh (known as Artsakh to the indigenous Armenians) after the late 2020 war which saw much of the contested region taken by Azeri forces.

This escalation comes approximately a month and a half since the late July/early August clashes in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic when Azeri forces attacked the remaining Artsakh defenders. After months of tensions, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of allegedly attacking its military units in the disputed region. Azeri Ministry of Defense claimed that Armenian soldiers supposedly opened fire at Azeri troops in Gadabay, Kalbajar and Khojavend. Initially, no casualties or material losses were reported as a result of the alleged attack, although the Azeri MoD later claimed at least one of their soldiers was killed. Azerbaijan then took what it called “retaliatory measures”. The Armenian side denied the accusations and stated that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is stable. Since 2020, nearly 2000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh to enforce a ceasefire agreement signed after the large-scale Azerbaijani attack on Armenian forces late that year.

However, the latest escalation is the first large-scale incident when Azeri forces attacked Armenia proper. This is just one of many instances in which the Azeri side is claiming it’s “only defending” and is accusing Armenia of attacking its troops. Given the rather difficult position of both Armenia proper and the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, it would be strategically unwise to even contemplate escalation against Baku, especially when taking into account the clear superiority of Azeri forces in the last several years. In recent times, the oil and gas-rich Azerbaijan has been acquiring large quantities of advanced weapons from various countries, especially Turkey and Israel. At the same time, Armenia, a small landlocked country with scant resources, has been under a virtual blockade by both Turkey and Azerbaijan for over three decades and it cannot match the economic and military power of Azerbaijan alone, to say nothing of the virtually guaranteed support Baku gets from regional powers such as Turkey.

The Azeri side is most likely resuming its offensive in the region since Russia is preoccupied with its counteroffensive against NATO aggression in Europe. Baku is trying to use the current geopolitical situation to fulfill its long-term goals and it may very well be attacking Armenia directly to divert Yerevan’s attention and create an opportunity to capture the entire territory of the already surrounded Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. 

However, this would require Azerbaijan to effectively go against Russia’s interests in the Southern Caucasus region. Moscow has repeatedly warned Azerbaijan against escalating the conflict with Armenia any further. Despite the successful geopolitical game Azeri leadership has been playing for years, balancing between Russia, Turkey and the political West, Moscow is unlikely to allow further attacks. Back in March, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned Baku that the Russian military is capable of conducting large-scale operations in multiple theaters, clearly implying that no unilateral Azeri action will be tolerated.

However, Baku seems to have the quiet backing of the EU. According to Radio Free Europe, the same day when the conflict escalated Azerbaijan announced it will increase natural gas exports to Europe this year by 30%. As Brussels is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, the EU is neither willing nor in a position to condemn an Azeri attack on Armenia. 

What’s more, the conflict would be quite suitable for the political West, particularly the US. First, it could further undermine relations between Russia and Turkey, which could also spill over to other regions, such as Syria. Second, it would require Russia to send additional troops to Armenia and possibly even Nagorno-Karabakh, which would divert Moscow’s attention and resources from its military operation against the NATO-backed Kiev regime. Either way, Russia is faced with a carefully coordinated destabilization on its entire western and southwestern flank and it will require nothing short of masterful strategic planning to tackle these issues without creating even more problems.

Drago Bosnic is an independent geopolitical and military analyst.

September 13, 2022 Posted by | Militarism | , | Leave a comment

King Woodrow’s Wilsonian Armenia

Tales of the American Empire | April 28, 2022

Woodrow Wilson was America’s most imperial President. He believed in American superiority and using military force to unite the world under a League of Nations based in New York. From 1913 to 1920, Wilson dispatched American troops to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Russia, and France. President Wilson saw an opportunity for another American crusade. He asked the United States Congress for the authority to establish a Mandate for Armenia on May 24, 1920 that would fund a huge American military expedition to Turkey.

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Related Tale: “The Genocide Called World War I”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psXYM…

Related Tale: “The American Invasion of Russia in 1918”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMtLk…

“American Military Mission to Armenia”: Major General James Harbord, U.S Army; Washington GPO; April 13, 1920; http://www.armenianhouse.org/harbord/…

April 30, 2022 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , | Leave a comment

Rising tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran spark fears of an Israeli-US proxy war against Tehran

By Robert Inlakesh | RT | October 6, 2021

Tensions are running high as Iran holds war games along its northern border, warning it won’t tolerate its neighbour providing a safe haven for the “anti-security activities of the fake Zionist regime.”

Iranian war games held along its northern border with Azerbaijan, leading to Baku threatening military deployment in retaliation, has sparked fear of war between the two countries.

But any such war would not end up being won by Tehran or Baku, but rather the United States and Israel, who would likely seize such an opportunity to fuel a Syria-style proxy war against the Islamic Republic.

The tensions that have arisen between Azerbaijan and Iran, as of late September, have seemingly popped up out of nowhere, but such an escalation was only a matter of time. The recent political quarrel has come about as a product of last year’s war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, over the Nagorno-Karabakh area, which resulted in a victory for Baku and allowed it to take over Karabakh from Armenia.

Iran had previously used its access through Armenian-controlled Karabakh to reach West Asia and Russia, sending its trucks and other means of transportation through the area, often free of customs.

Since Azerbaijan established its sovereignty over Karabakh, it has cracked down harshly on Iranian trucking and sought to establish itself as the leader of the Caucasus, intending to make itself the primary connection hub between Europe and Asia.

In order to undermine Baku, Iran has now announced that it will help Armenia establish a new bypass road that will cut out Azerbaijan. Although Tehran denies it initiated the recent war games along the Iran-Azerbaijan border with the intent of escalation, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev criticised the military drills, asking, “Why now, and why on our border?”

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Force offered one answer when he said last week that Iran would not tolerate its neighbors becoming “a safe haven and a base for the presence and anti-security activities of the fake Zionist regime.”

In the event that a clash does occur between Iran and Azerbaijan, it is likely that the Islamic Republic has the upper hand, being a regional military powerhouse. Yet Azerbaijan has more potential for causing Iran trouble through its allies and potential proxies than it does through its military might. Iran’s military drills, named Fatehan-e Khaybar (Conquerors of Khaybar), are also clearly not just aimed at sending a message to Baku, but also to Israel.

Israel armed Azerbaijan with roughly $825 million in armaments between 2006-2019. Although it would seem strange to some that Iran claims an Israeli presence on its northwestern border, as Israel is not even close geographically and its relationship with Azerbaijan looks on the surface to be mainly business based, it does have a point when it claims this, as the relationship runs far deeper than weapons trade.

A WikiLeaks-released cable sent by Donald Lu, the deputy chief of mission for the US embassy in Baku, to the US State Department revealed the nature of Azerbaijan-Israel ties, stating: “The relationship also affects U.S. policy insofar as Azerbaijan tries, often successfully, to convince the U.S. pro-Israel lobby to advocate on its behalf,” indicating a much closer connection than publicly admitted between the two sides. The document also revealed that, “with some humor, the Israeli DCM told us that Israeli businessmen expressed to her that they prefer corruption in Kazakhstan to that of Azerbaijan because in Kazakhstan one can expect to pay exorbitant fees to do business but those are generally collected at once, up front, whereas in Azerbaijan the demands for bribes never cease.”

Foreign Policy Magazine published a piece in 2012 in which they claimed that a senior US official confirmed that Israel had secured an airfield in Azerbaijan and that Israel could be using the country for a staging ground against Iran, a charge that Baku denies. Beyond this, Tehran has accused Azerbaijan of encouraging separatists groups inside of Iran, many of which staged demonstrations last year during the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, calling for the re-establishment of what they call “Southern Azerbaijan.”

If any war was to be initiated between Baku and Tehran, this would be the greatest opportunity for Israel and the US to back ethnic Azeri separatists in a similar way to how the Obama administration funded and trained Syrian militants to overthrow the government of Bashar Assad. Out of Iran’s 83 million citizens, between 10-15 million of them are believed to be ethnic Azeris, meaning that just a small portion of them are needed to form an extremely problematic military force that could fight in urban warfare settings.

The United States and Israel have for long been hesitant to launch direct strikes against Iran, likely for fear of the regional war which it could spark, along with Iranian retaliation, yet a proxy war would be much less costly. During any such war, they could also launch strikes against Iran, especially Israel, which constantly threatens Tehran.

Turkey has already pledged its support to Azerbaijan, and during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, even sent ex-Syrian Jihadist mercenaries to aid Baku’s forces; some of these ex-Syrian militants are reportedly present along the Iranian border now.

Iran may be able to handle such a proxy war, but it would certainly be a tough challenge, while Azerbaijan would likely suffer badly. The war would benefit no one but regional players and super powers seeking regime change in Tehran, which is unlikely to succeed, as was the case in Syria. Such a war would result in perhaps hundreds of thousands of deaths and cause any number of unforeseen consequences. Iran knows the strategy which the likes of Israel is attempting to employ against it, meaning that such a war could lead to retaliatory action committed against Tel Aviv.

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and currently works with Quds News and Press TV.

October 6, 2021 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Azerbaijan won the war in Nagorno-Karabakh but reduced its sovereignty

By Paul Antonopoulos | February 1, 2021

Although Azerbaijan won the war against Armenia, both countries have in fact lost part of their sovereignty.

Azerbaijan won the war and expanded territorially after it captured or received the districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh proper that Armenian forces captured in the first war (1988-1994). The status of Nagorno-Karabakh proper remains undetermined but is protected by Russian peacekeepers and is still governed by Armenians.

Despite this territorial expansion, Azerbaijan has in fact partly lost its sovereignty. During the war, reports began emerging that Azerbaijani military leaders were becoming increasingly frustrated with the level of control that Turkey had over their fighting forces. These reports were quickly dismissed and denied by Azerbaijan as Armenian attempts to create division through misinformation. But if this was just misinformation, then there would be no risk of division to begin with, meaning it would not be worth giving attention to, suggesting there was certainly an element of truth to it.

Azerbaijan’s military success lays with two key factors: the Armenian political and military incompetency and lack of will, and Turkey’s contribution with drones, special forces, intelligence and transfer of Syrian jihadists.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan never truly committed to the war effort as Armenian forces were never fully mobilized, powerful Iskander missiles infrequently used, the Armenian Air Force mostly grounded, Armenian diaspora and foreign volunteers rejected from fighting, and local Armenian militias not equipped with enough ammunition, maps and communication devices, nor were the militias assigned commanders – yet this was supposedly a “war for survival,” as Pashinyan termed it.

None-the-less, despite the incompetency of the Armenian leadership, Azerbaijan’s rapid success in Nagorno-Karabakh would not have been possible without significant Turkish support. Even Azerbaijan’s success is limited as it did not achieve its main war aim – the capture of Nagorno-Karabakh.

More importantly, Ankara’s footprint in the country massively expanded through the deployment of more Turkish troops to Azerbaijan, control of more military bases, and the establishment of a joint observation center with Russia in the Agdam region.

As said, reports circulated during the war that divisions in the Azerbaijani military and political circles were emerging between a pro-Turkish faction and another faction in opposition to Turkey’s dominant role in the war effort. These reports have only intensified in recent days as Turkish troops are now deployed in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani politicians and military leaders are beginning to worry about Ankara’s strong influence in the country, with critics commenting that Azerbaijan has become the 82nd province of Turkey. Although Azerbaijan now controls most of the formerly Armenian-held territory, it cannot exercise control over it without Turkish and Russian oversight.

In fact, even Iran has greater opportunities to influence Azerbaijan that it was not able to do before the war. Azerbaijan’s capture of the districts to the south of Nagorno-Karabakh proper means that it shares external borders with only Armenia and Iran. Effectively Iran has great opportunities to be one of the leading foreign investors in the region as Armenia and Azerbaijan have not normalized their relations. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited the Nakhichevan exclave of Azerbaijan, the region wedged between Armenia, Turkey and Iran, to boost regional cooperation through new railroad and transportation routes.

In turn, it will be inevitable that Iran will attempt to gain influence through pan-Shi’ism, but this may prove difficult to gain a foothold as pan-Turkism has become the dominant ideology of Azerbaijan because of Turkey’s own soft power manoeuvers. Russia will utilize its influence through its peacekeepers in the region, and also soft power through economic exchanges.

Although Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will relish his country’s long-awaited victory after his father Heydar Aliyev signed a humiliating ceasefire in May 1994 to conclude the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the long-term repercussion means that Turkey dominates the Azerbaijani military and wields great political influence over Baku. Also, there is limited Azerbaijani governance in the territories it controls because of Russia’s watchful eye through the deployment of peacekeepers. And finally, we can see much stronger Iranian influence as it aims to penetrate the region through economic and religious means.

Azerbaijani flags may be flying over the captured territories, but it certainly has come at the price of reduced sovereignty – militarily, economically, politically, and perhaps even religiously and culturally.

Paul Antonopoulos is an independent geopolitical analyst.

February 1, 2021 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

MICHAEL MCFAUL’S COUNTERPRODUCTIVE POLICY PROPOSALS

Irrussianality | January 22, 2021

War, said the great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, is an “interaction.” It is “not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass, but always the collision of two living forces.” One might say the same thing about international politics. Whatever you do always involves others, who have a will of their own and who act in ways which impede the fulfilment of your plans.

The good strategist doesn’t assume that others will simply comply with his demands. Rather he considers their likely response, and if it is probable that they will respond in a way that harms his own interests, he jettisons his plan and looks for another.

Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election has led to a slew of articles suggesting the policies that the new administration should pursue towards Russia. All too often, instead of considering how Russia will respond, they treat it as a “lifeless mass” which can be pushed in the desired direction by pressing the correct buttons. Experience, however, suggests that this is not the case, and the Russian reaction to the proposed policies is not likely to be what the United States desires.

An example is an article by the former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, published this week in the magazine Foreign Affairs. Full of suggestions for ramping up the pressure on Russia, it fails to take into consideration how Moscow is likely to respond to such pressure. Consequently, it ends up proposing a line that if put into practice would probably be entirely counterproductive.

McFaul accuses Russian president Vladimir Putin of leading an “assault on democracy, liberalism, and multilateral institutions,” with the objective of “the destruction” of the international order. From this McFaul concludes that the United States “must deter and contain Putin’s Russia for the long haul.” He then makes several suggestions as to what this policy should involve.

First, he suggests that NATO build up its armed forces on Russia’s border, “especially on its vulnerable southern flank”. Why precisely this is “vulnerable” McFaul doesn’t say, but he does tell us that NATO “needs new weapons systems, including frigates with antisubmarine technologies, nuclear and conventionally powered submarines, and patrol aircraft.”

Second, he argues that America must increase its support to Ukraine. “A successful, democratic Ukraine will inspire new democratic possibilities in Russia,” he says, as if a “successful, democratic Ukraine” is something that can simply be wished into existence. But McFaul wants to do more than just help Ukraine; he also wants to punish Russia. “As long as Putin continues to occupy Ukrainian territory, sanctions should continue to ratchet up,” he says.

Third, McFaul wants the US to get more deeply involved in other countries on Russia’s borders. “Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Uzbekistan all deserve diplomatic upgrades,” he suggests. He also recommends that Joe Biden, “should meet with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya”.

Fourth, McFaul wishes to venture into the world of censorship. America and other Western democracies, “should develop a common set of laws and protocols for regulating Russian government controlled-media,” he says. To this end, he argues that Biden should get social media to “downgrade the information Russia distributes through its propaganda channels.” If a search engine produces a link to RT, “a BBC story should pop up next to it,” he says.

Finally, McFaul says that the United States should bypass the Russian government to forge contacts with the Russian people, so as to “undermine Putin’s anti-American propaganda.” The USA should also train Russian journalists as part of an effort to “support independent journalism and anticorruption efforts in Russia.”

Strategy, as Clausewitz, pointed out, is about using tactics to achieve the political aim. But it is almost impossible to see how the tactics McFaul proposes could help the United States achieve any useful objective. The simple reason is that Russia is hardly likely to react to them in a positive fashion.

Let us look at them from a Russian point of view. How will the Russian government see them?

Sanctions are to “ratchet up” in perpetuity (as they must if they are connected to Russia’s possession of Crimea, which no Russian government will ever surrender); NATO will deploy more and more forces on Russia’s frontier; America will interfere ever more in Russian internal affairs, building up what will undoubtedly be considered a “fifth column” of US-trained journalists and opposition activists; the USA will intensify efforts to detach Russia from its allies and build up a ring up of hostile states around it; and finally, America will launch all-out information warfare to bend the international media to its will.

What does McFaul imagine Russia will do when it sees all this? Put up its hands and surrender? If he does, then it’s clear that in a lifetime studying Russia, he’s managed to learn nothing.

In reality, the response would probably be not at all to his liking. The growing sense of external and internal threat would lead to an increase in repressive measures at home, undermining the very democracy and liberty McFaul claims to be supporting. In addition, we would most probably see Russia increasing its own military forces on its national frontiers; doubling down on its support for the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine; and pressing further with its own activities in the information domain.

In short, the Russian response would involve Russia doing all the things that McFaul dislikes, but even more so. It is hard to see how his strategy could be deemed to be a sensible one.

If it was just McFaul, it would probably not matter too much. But he is far from the only person saying these things. The general theme among supporters of the new Biden administration is that Trump was too soft on Russia, and that America needs to take a more robust line. This does not bode well for the next few years.

“Know your enemy and know yourself,” said another great strategist, Sun Tzu. Unfortunately, Americans seem to have forgotten this advice. They would do well to heed it.

January 22, 2021 Posted by | Militarism, Russophobia | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Conflict in Caucasus Is Erdogan’s Revenge for Syria

By Finian Cunningham | Strategic Culture Foundation | October 17, 2020

Turkey’s outsize role in fueling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is becoming more apparent. That’s why a peace deal will be hard to cut and indeed the conflict may blow up further into a protracted regional war. A war that could drag Russia into battling in the Caucasus on its southern periphery against NATO proxies.

In a phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly backed Moscow’s efforts at mediating a ceasefire in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notwithstanding, Erdogan appeared to deliver an ultimatum to his Russian counterpart. He said that there must be a “permanent solution” to the decades-long territorial dispute.

Erdogan and his Azerbaijan ally have already made it clear that the only solution acceptable to them is for Armenian separatists to relinquish their claim to Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan – bound by common Turkic culture – have long-called the Armenian-held enclave an illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territory since a border war ended in 1994.

When hostilities flared again last month on September 27 initial reports suggested the clashes were of a haphazard nature with both sides trading blame for starting the violence. However, it has since become clear that the actions taken on the Azeri side seem to have been a planned aggression with Turkey’s full support.

Following a previous deadly clash on July 12-13 involving about a dozen casualties among Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, there then proceeded massive military exercises in Azerbaijan involving 11,000 Turkish troops beginning on July 29. For nearly two weeks into August, the maneuvers deployed artillery, warplanes and air-defense units in what was evidently a major drive by Ankara and Baku to coordinate the armies from both countries to fulfill joint operations. Furthermore, reports indicated that Turkish forces, including F-16 fighter jets, remained in Azerbaijan following the unprecedented military drills.

Alongside the drills, there was also a dramatic increase in military arms sales from Turkey to Azerbaijan. According to Turkish export figures, there was a six-fold increase in weapons deals compared with the previous year, with most of the supply being delivered in the third quarter of 2020 between July and September. The armaments included drones and rocket launchers which have featured with such devastating impact since hostilities erupted on September 27.

A third factor suggesting planned aggression was the reported transport of mercenary fighters from Syria and Libya by Turkey to fight on the Azerbaijani side. Thousands of such militants belonging to jihadist brigades under the control of Turkey had arrived in the Azeri capital Baku before hostilities broke out on September 27. The logistics involved in organizing such a large-scale deployment can only mean long-term planning.

Armenian sources also claim that Azeri authorities had begun impounding civilian vehicles weeks before the shooting war opened. They also claim that when the fire-fights erupted on September 27, Turkish media were present on the ground to give live coverage of events.

It seems indisputable therefore that Turkey and Azerbaijan had made a strategic decision to implement a “final solution” to the protracted dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

That’s what makes Russian efforts at mediating a cessation to hostilities all the more fraught. After marathon talks mediated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a ceasefire was introduced on October 10. However, within hours the truce unravelled with reports of resumed exchange of fire and shelling of cities on both sides. The main violations have been committed by the Azerbaijani side using advanced Turkish [as well as Israeli] weaponry. Armenian leaders have complained that the Azeri side does not seem interested in pursuing peace talks.

More perplexing is the widening of the conflict. Azerbaijan air strikes since the weekend ceasefire broke down have hit sites within Armenia, extending the conflict beyond the contested enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has also claimed that Armenian missiles have hit cities within its territory. Armenia flatly denies carrying out such strikes, which begs the question: is a third party covertly staging provocations and fomenting escalation of conflict?

What is challenging for Russia is that it has a legal obligation to defend Armenia as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (1992). With Armenia coming under fire, the pressure will be on Moscow to intervene militarily.

This would see Russia being embroiled in another proxy war with NATO-member Turkey. But this is not in Syria. It is the Caucasus region on Russia’s southern border. There are concerns among senior Russian military figures that such a scenario is exactly what Turkey’s Recep Erdogan is aiming for. Turkey was outplayed by Russia in the proxy war in Syria. Erdogan and NATO’s plans for regime change in Damascus were dealt a bloody nose by Russia. It seems though that conflict in the Caucasus may now be Erdogan’s revenge.

Moscow may need to seriously revise its relations with Ankara, and let Erdogan know he is treading on red lines.

October 18, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish claims that the PKK is operating in Artsakh set dangerous precedent

By Paul Antonopoulos | September 28, 2020

Conflict sparked up again yesterday in Artsakh, or more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, when Azerbaijan launched an offensive against Armenian forces. Although the Republic of Artsakh is not recognized by any state, including Armenia, and it is still internationally recognized as occupied Azerbaijani territory, it achieved a de facto independence in 1994.

As acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union in the early 1920’s, future Soviet leader Joseph Stalin granted the Armenian-majority region of Artsakh to the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. The Azeris, the dominant ethnic group of Azerbaijan, are cultural and linguistic kin with the Turks. It is said that the Turks and Azeris constitute “one nation in two states.” The defining difference is that Azeris are Shia Muslims unlike Turks who are mostly Sunni. The Soviets had hoped that by granting Artsakh to Azerbaijan instead of Armenia, they could court the newly founded Republic of Turkey to closely align with Moscow, or perhaps even become a Soviet Republic, by appeasing their ethnic Azeri kin.

In 1921, it was estimated that Artsakh was 94% Armenian. However, according to the 1989 census, Artsakh’s population was approximately 75% Armenian and 25% Azeri. Former Soviet Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev, father of current President Ilham Aliyev, said in 2002: “I tried to change demographics there […] I tried to increase the number of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh and the number of Armenians decreased.” The collapse of the Soviet Union unsurprisingly led to the Artsakh War, which only ended after a ceasefire in 1994 when Armenian forces achieved a decisive victory.

Despite Azerbaijan’s defense budget ($2.267 billion) being about five times larger than Armenia’s, they have failed to capture Artsakh on numerous attempts, particularly during the 2016 April War and another major attempt in July of this year. Azerbaijan’s resumption of hostilities yesterday could be passed off as just another skirmish that will subside in a few days. However, the current conditions are far different and much more dangerous than in previous situations.

Although it is well established that the Turkish economy is struggling, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is maintaining a policy of constant crises in the vain attempt to distract the public from the Turkish lira as it continues breaking new record lows to the US dollar and Euro, even as recently as this morning. As the military provocations and rhetoric of war against Greece and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean begins to subside in Ankara, it only took a few days for a new crisis to emerge.

Reports began emerging last week that Turkey was transferring terrorists from northern Syria to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani leadership in Baku flatly denied the allegations last week and today. However, despite the denials from Baku, it must be remembered that Ankara openly announced its transfer of Syrian fighters to Libya earlier this year and the Azerbaijani’s have undoubtedly used international terrorists from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Turkey during the first Artsakh war in the 1990’s. Photos, videos and voice recordings have emerged that show Syrian terrorists on their way to or already in Azerbaijan. Vardan Toghanya, the Armenian Ambassador to Moscow, said in a statement today that 4,000 militants from Syria already arrived in Azerbaijan, while according to the Armenian intelligence agency, 80 fighters from Syria have already been killed or wounded.

Turkey’s transfer of militants in support of Azerbaijan, which was also done in the 1990’s, is not what makes the current conflict more dangerous compared to previous battles and skirmishes. Starting from last week, Turkey and Azerbaijan have increased their campaign in claiming that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Baku, was operating in Artsakh. Neither Ankara and Baku provided any evidence for their claims. This sets a dangerous narrative as it could be used as a way for Turkey to “legitimize” a direct intervention against Armenia and in support of Azerbaijan.

Erdoğan justified his invasion and occupation of large areas of northern Syria and northern Iraq in 2018, 2019 and this year on the pretence that they were fighting against the PKK. Although Armenia denies PKK are operating in Artsakh, this will be ignored by Ankara and Baku.

However, unlike Syria and Iraq, Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), alongside Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. A direct Turkish attack on Armenia could activate the CSTO. This would be a dangerous scenario as in turn this could activate NATO in defense of Turkey. It is highly unlikely that the situation in Artsakh will dissolve into a CSTO-NATO faceoff. But the risk still remains, especially if Erdoğan decides to directly intervene under the guise of expelling the PKK from Artsakh.

Just as Erdoğan unleashed a migrant crisis in February and March of this year against Greece, sent Syrian terrorists to Libya in May, conducted a military operation in northern Iraq against the PKK in June, and created a new crisis with Greece by sending warships into its territorial waters in August and for most of September, it appears the new crisis to dominate headlines for the next few weeks will revolve around Artsakh.

Although it is unlikely that Turkey will directly militarily intervene, a dangerous precedent has already been established by pushing the narrative, without publicly available evidence, that the PKK are operating in Artsakh alongside Armenian forces. With the Turkish economy and lira collapsing, Erdoğan in the future may very well use the narrative that the PKK are in Artsakh to foment public furore and distract them from the declining economic situation.

Paul Antonopoulos is an independent geopolitical analyst.

September 28, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran, China, Russia to partake in Caucus 2020 military drills

Press TV – September 10, 2020

Military forces from Iran, China, and Russia are scheduled to take part in joint military exercises with a number of other countries in southern Russia later this month.

China’s Defense Ministry made the announcement in a news release on Thursday and said troops from Armenia, Belarus, Myanmar, and Pakistan would also participate in the drills, code-named “Caucus 2020.”

The ministry added that the exercises, to be held from September 21 to 26, would focus on defensive tactics, encirclement, and battlefield control and command.

The drills have special significance “at this important moment when the entire world is fighting the pandemic,” the ministry said.

The United States administration has insinuated that the coronavirus was artificially developed in a Chinese lab. China has rejected that insinuation.

Iran, China, and Russia have over the past years increased their military and diplomatic cooperation to counter the United States’ hostile policies and extra-territorial presence in their regions.

Late last year, the three countries held four days of naval exercises code-named the “Marine Security Belt” to promote regional security and peace and safeguard international trade in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean.

September 10, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Armenian-Azerbaijani Clashes And Shifting Balance Of Power In South Caucasus

South Front | July 18, 2020

The Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions have once again turned South Caucasus into a hot point increasing chances of a new regional war.

The key difference with previous military incidents between the two countries is that the point of confrontation shifted from the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border. Clashes first erupted on July 12 in the area of Tovuz and since then both sides have repeatedly accused each other of provoking the conflict, attacking civilians and declared defeats of the ‘enemy’.

According to the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, the fighting started after Armenian forces opened fire on positions of Azerbaijani forces in the Tovuz district. The fighting which included the use of combat drones, artillery, mortars, and battle tanks continued over the following days, including July 17. The Azerbaijani military confirmed that at least 12 personnel, including Major General Gashimov Polad and Colonel Ilgar Mirzaev, were killed. In turn, Kerim Veliyev, Azerbaijan’s deputy defense minister, said that 100 Armenian soldiers were killed, several fortified positions were destroyed and that a UAV was shot down. Armenia, according to Veliyev, is hiding the real number of its casualties.

Azerbaijani media and top leadership describe the current situation as an act of Armenian aggression, and say that Azerbaijani forces are only responding to it. President Ilham Aliyev even called Armenia a “fascist state” adding that “Armenian forces could not enter Azerbaijan in one centimeter of soil and will never be able to do this”.

The Armenian version of events is quite different. According to it, the clashes started after a group of Azerbaijani soldiers violated the Armenian state border in an UAZ vehicle. The defense ministry press service claimed that after the warning from the Armenian side, “the enemy troops returned to their positions”. It added that later Azerbaijani forces attacked an Armenian checkpoint.

As of now, the Armenian military said that it had repelled two ‘offensives’ involving at least 100 soldiers supported by fire of several artillery battalions. These attacks were allegedly actively supported by combat and reconnaissance drones of Azerbaijan. A spokesperson for the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan said that Azerbaijan lost at least 20 soldiers, a battle tank and other equipment during the clashes. Armenia says that only 4 of its service members were killed.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim that their forces are repelling an aggression of the enemy, which has been attacking it and killing civilians. However, despite the harsh rhetoric, the leaderships of both countries are sending signals that they are not interested in a larger military confrontation.

At the same time, years of war propaganda and historic tensions between the nations push the situation towards a further escalation. A unilateral move towards the cessation of hostilities by leaders of either country would be presented by the other one as a sign of weakness and promoted as an admission of defeat. Taking into account the complicated political and economic conditions in both countries, neither Armenian nor Azerbaijani leaders could afford such a public move. Therefore, de-escalation is possible only through international mechanisms.

The situation is further complicated by the complex diplomatic situation in the region of the South Caucasus. Armenia, alongside Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO expressed its concerns over the situation and called on the sides to commit to a ceasefire regime. Nonetheless, the Russia-led security bloc, and Russia itself, demonstrated that in the current situation they will focus on diplomatic measures.

Since the 2018 coup, when Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Armenia, the country has been consistently undermining its relations with the CSTO and Russia by pursuing a quite weak, but apparent anti-Russian and pro-Western foreign policy course. The bright dream of the Pashinyan government is to sell its loyalty to the United States for some coins and commit itself to the way of the so-called ‘European integration’. The issue with this plan is that Washington and its partners need Armenia only as a tool of their geopolitical gains and are not interested in providing it with any kind of military protection or economic assistance. The Pashinyan government is forced to play a double game in an attempt to simultaneously please its ‘democratic’ masters and receive protection and assistance from Russia. This attitude is not a secret for Moscow.

On the other hand, in the event of a large-scale military confrontation, Azerbaijan will be supported by its main ally Turkey, which also has close bilateral ties with Russia. Ankara already declared that it fully supports Azerbaijan and condemned the supposed ‘Armenian aggression’. Thus, in the event of full-scale military confrontation, Armenia will immediately find itself in a very complicated situation, and direct military assistance from the CSTO and Russia will be unlikely.

So, the Armenian chances in a limited military conflict with Azerbaijan and Turkey are at least shaky. Turkey and Azerbaijan fully understand this. By undermining strategic relations with Moscow, and thus the balance of power in the region, Erevan put the entire South Caucasus on the brink of a new regional war.

July 18, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Iran Voices Readiness to Help Ease Tensions between Azerbaijan, Armenia

Al-Manar | July 16, 2020

Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed the Islamic Republic’s readiness to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the wake of deadly border clashes between the two countries.

“As soon as clashes erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran’s diplomatic apparatus got active to mediate and soothe this tension as the region cannot afford another conflict,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters in the northwestern city of Ardabil on Thursday.

He further called on both sides to show restraint, voicing Iran’s readiness to help bring an end to tensions between the two former Soviet republics, Tasnim news agency reported.

The clashes broke out on the volatile Armenia-Azerbaijan border on Sunday and have continued over the past days.

At least 16 people, including four Armenian troops, 11 Azeri servicemen and one Azeri civilian, have been killed in the latest outbreak of hostilities between the two neighbors.

July 17, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment