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The wars in Nagorno-Karabakh threaten a deadly escalation



MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s attempt to mediate a ceasefire to end the worst military outbreak in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in more than a quarter of a century has failed to achieve any grip, and competitors Azerbaijan and Armenia are trading blame for new attacks.

The failure of the truce, which was due to begin on Saturday, reflects the uncompromising positions of the two countries in the South Caucasus, which have hampered decades of diplomatic efforts. The escalation of hostilities creates the specter of a wider conflict that could attract Russia and Turkey and threaten energy exports from the Caspian Sea.

A look at some military and geopolitical aspects of the conflict and its potential consequences:

ROOTS OF THE CONFLICT

Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by Armenians, was an autonomous region in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. Historical tensions between Christian Armenians and predominantly Muslim Azerbaijanis, fueled by memories of the massacre of 1

.5 million Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman Turks, erupted in the last years of the Soviet Union.

In 1988, the region sought to join Armenia, provoking hostilities that turned into a full-scale war when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. At the time of the 1994 ceasefire, about 30,000 fighting had ended. people were killed and up to 1 million were displaced. Armenian forces not only detained Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but also seized significant tracts of land outside the territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a wooded, mountainous area of ​​about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) the size of the US state of Delaware, has since been running its own business, relying on Armenia’s support.

IMPLEMENTED PEACE INITIATIVES

Ever since Armenian forces defeated Azerbaijani troops in the war, international mediators have been seeking a political agreement.

Russia, the United States and France, which sponsored the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have proposed a number of peace initiatives, but Armenia’s firm resistance to surrender any land was a key obstacle.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, relies on its oil wealth to modernize its army and now claims the right to reclaim its land by force after nearly three decades of failed international mediation.

MILITARY DIFFERENCE

While separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian military continue to rely heavily on aging weapons built by the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has completely renewed its arsenal with state-of-the-art assault drones and powerful multiple missile systems supplied by a neighbor and ally. .

More than two weeks of fighting have shown that Azerbaijan clearly outperforms its forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and puts them on the defensive. Azerbaijani troops have made significant progress in several areas around Nagorno-Karabakh and bombarded its cities with missiles and artillery shells.

Armenian forces have countered with Soviet-built howitzers, obsolete BM-21 missiles and obsolete Tochka-U missiles, which lack the impact and precision of Azerbaijan’s more modern weapons.

THE NEW ROLE OF TURKEY

Unlike previous outbreaks of hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, NATO member Turkey, which has close ethnic, cultural and historical ties to Azerbaijan, has taken a higher profile and vowed to help Azerbaijan regain territory. Turkey’s emerging role reflects President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions to expand his nation’s influence.

Armenian authorities say Turkey is directly involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side. Turkey has denied sending fighters to the region, but a Syrian war observer and Syrian-based opposition activists have confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian authorities also accuse Turkey of providing intelligence and even air cover to Azerbaijan, claiming that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an Armenian military plane. Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied the allegations, but the Azerbaijani president acknowledged that Turkish F-16s remained in Azerbaijan for weeks after a joint military exercise. He insisted that they remained on the ground.

CONFLICT GOALS

As Armenia seeks to maintain the 1994 status quo in the region and desperately needs a ceasefire to limit damage and regroup, Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s blessing, is apparently preparing for a long battle, hoping to bleed Armenia. and force her to make concessions.

The escalation of the fighting is a major challenge for Russia, which has a military base in Armenia but also seeks to maintain good relations with Azerbaijan and avoid enmity with Turkey. Russia and Turkey have learned to adjust to mutual interests in Syria and Libya and have developed strong economic ties, but the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh can now destroy their alliance.

Azerbaijan and Turkey have accepted Russia’s mediation and reluctantly agreed to a ceasefire, but have made it clear they see the ceasefire as temporary until Armenia agrees to withdraw its forces from Nagorno-Karabakh.

AWARDING ECALATION

Landlocked Armenia, exhausted by three decades of Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades, has no resources for a protracted conflict. But he cannot be expected to give in to pressure. Patriotic sentiments are growing and Armenians of all trades and ages have appeared on the front lines.

If Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh begin to lose ground, Armenia could raise the stakes in the conflict by recognizing the independence of the separatist region – something it has not yet done – and an open military challenge to Azerbaijan. So far, Armenian officials have denied striking Azerbaijan from its territory, a claim disputed by Azerbaijan.

Armenia has several high-precision Iskander missile systems supplied by Russia. It has not yet used the powerful weapon, but could be tempted if Armenian forces face the prospect of losing Nagorno-Karabakh.

So far, Armenian authorities have promised not to focus on Azerbaijan’s infrastructure, including an oil pipeline carrying Caspian crude oil to Turkey and Western markets, but their calculation could change if Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are in a corner. If Armenian forces focus on the strategic pipeline, Azerbaijan could also increase its ante.

During the previous escalation of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense boasted of its state-of-the-art missile systems capable of striking the Armenian nuclear power plant Metsamor – a threat condemned by Armenian authorities at the time. as “genocidal. “

If Azerbaijan openly strikes Armenian territory, Moscow will be obliged by its military pact with Yerevan to intervene militarily to protect its ally. Turkey can hardly be expected to lose its job.


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