Vladimir Putin is intensively arming Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan. Massive deliveries of Russian weapons to Armenia threaten a possible new war in the South Caucasus.
In 1991, almost 30 years ago, the Soviet Union formally collapsed, resulting in the breakaway from and the independence of all former Soviet satellite-republics. One such satellite is the Republic of Azerbaijan and another is Armenia.
However, during those years, Russian political leaders, especially its current president Vladimir Putin, have not been hiding their anger and regret for the dissolution of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). More so, the independence the former Soviet republics gained.
Mr. Putin once voiced that the collapse of the Soviet Union was, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” [of the 20th century].
Not letting go of its neo-imperialistic slant and part of its “near abroad” concept, referring to the newly independent republics which emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia still considers the South Caucasus that is Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, its exclusive influence zone.
Taking advantage of the absence of pro-active European Union and US leadership in the Caucasus, Russia has been getting more aggressive in the region, especially with regard to the long-standing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
About the Conflict
This conflict began in the early 1990s, when Armenia, aided by Russia, invaded and ethnically cleansed Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts. Armenia forced almost one million Azerbaijani civilians to flee their ancestral lands, to become internally displaced people (IDPs) in Azerbaijan. Despite the U.N. Security Council’s 1993 four resolutions: 822, 853, 874 and 884, all condemning the Armenian occupation and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian troops from Azerbaijan’s occupied lands, Armenia’s belligerence continues. Armenia, ignoring the UNSC resolutions, continues to hold under illegal military occupation around 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory. Sadly, almost three decades later, Azerbaijani forcibly displaced people are still waiting for Armenia’s greenlight to allow them to return to their homes and lands.
Azerbaijan Moving on Regardless
Since it was Russia’s military and financial aid to Armenia that helped carry out the invasion against Azerbaijan, one can say, this was the price Azerbaijan paid for gaining independence. Azerbaijan was the first country in the South Caucasus to kick the Russian military forces out of its territory.
During those years, since the Armenian invasion, while struggling with the illegal Armenian occupation of some of its territory and attending to the welfare of the internally displaced Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijanis, the Republic of Azerbaijan has become the South Caucasus’s largest economy and the West’s most important ally and partner in the region.
Moreover, unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has refused to become a member of any Russia-led military and economic union.
It is therefore totally clear why, over the last 30 years, Russia has continued to arm Armenia. Russia’s 5000-troop military base in Armenia is among its largest in the world. Russian military forces guard Armenia’s borders and airspace and 80% of Armenia’s economy is owned by Russian companies. Furthermore, Armenia is a member of the Russia-led anti-NATO military block, called Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), also a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Latest Hostility Escalation
On July 12, 2020, Armenian armed forces heavy artillery fired at Azerbaijan’s armed forces positions on Azerbaijan’s northwestern border. This was the most violent breach of the ceasefire between the two countries in years. Subsequently, 15 Azerbaijani soldiers and a 76 year-old disabled Azerbaijani civilian were killed.
The Armenian attack on Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district occurred along the countries’ border, far from the occupied Karabakh territories.
The Tovuz district is a strategic one. Several strategic oil and gas pipelines are there, most essential to Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and economy, as well as to Europe and the United States. Transportation routes pass through the Tovuz district. The South Caucasus natural gas pipeline (SCP), a key part of the EU’s Southern Energy Corridor, to be fully operational in the coming few months, routes through Tovuz.
The SCP will deliver Azerbaijani gas to European markets via Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), passing through Georgia, Turkey and Southern Europe. Most importantly, this pipeline bypasses both Russia and Iran, delivering non-Russian and non-Iranian natural gas directly to Europe’s consumer market. The pipeline will help to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and improve the continent’s energy supply source diversification.
Seeking to control energy deliveries to Europe via its own networks, naturally, Russia fiercely opposes the SCP project. Bearing this in mind, it is no coincidence that Armenia’s latest military attack on Azerbaijan’s important Tovuz district happened just a few months before the completion of this strategic gas pipeline.
Russian Armaments Flow to Armenia
Russia has been actively positioning its ally, Armenia, against Azerbaijan, arming the former with offensive weapon systems. Since the July clashes, Moscow has been arming Armenia. On July 17, 2020, in the middle of the latest military escalation, Azerbaijan’s intelligence services reported on the first military equipment and ammunition shipments. Since then Russia delivered to Armenia almost half a million tons of weapons.
Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, expressed his ire and asked Vladimir Putin to clarify the Russian shipments to Armenia. It is totally unacceptable for Russia, being one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, tasked with resolving the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, to heavily arm one of the parties to the conflict. Therefore, Russia ups the ante, not mitigates, in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Russia has been using the route around the Caspian Sea and via Iran to deliver the weapons to Armenia. Almost every day a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter lands in Armenia’s capital Yerevan with huge loads of armaments. It is becoming rather obvious that Russia is preparing Armenia for another war against Azerbaijan.
Iran always regarded Azerbaijan’s secular governance with much suspicion, adding that Azerbaijan is a strategic partnership with the U.S. and Israel. Iran is therefore a willing participant in what has been called a dangerous energy gambit adventure in the Caucasus.
Azerbaijan has an ongoing claim that Armenia sides with Russia in Syria, sending contingents to Syria, and its territory is used by Russia’s military operating in Syria. This means that Armenia is an active participant in the conflict in Syria, it has personnel in this country and Armenia also deals with the “black trade” purchase of weapons from Syria.
The latest developments in the South Caucasus are alarming, especially Russia’s neo-imperialist policies and arms deliveries. Considering Azerbaijan’s geostrategic and geo-economic importance, and its significant role in connecting Central Asia with the West, the United States and Europe should be alarmed by Russia’s continuing weapons shipments to Armenia.
Without some kind of diplomatic intervention, unrest may erupt in the South Caucasus region from which only Russia can benefit.