Tomasz Konicz. January 4, 2023
Poor, surrounded by enemies, without allies: Armenia finds itself in a desperate geopolitical situation, as Azerbaijan’s renewed attack shows
The timing of the large-scale attack launched in the evening hours of September 12 was perfect. At the same time that Russia’s army was suffering its biggest defeat since the implosion of the Soviet Union in eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan was launching massive attacks on the territory of Armenia. Localities, infrastructure and military facilities in the southern Armenian border region were attacked with heavy artillery and drones. Within a few hours, Yerevan had to report dozens of dead civilians and army personnel
The intensity of the attacks reportedly eased somewhat on September 14, following appeals from the West and Russia, but artillery attacks on Armenian towns and villages continued to be reported. At the same time, according to unofficial Azerbaijani sources, Baku’s army has managed to capture a number of strategic positions in the Armenian border area, allowing Azerbaijani artillery to exercise fire control over large parts of southeastern Armenia.
The attacks by Azerbaijan, which has the full support of its close ally Turkey, come barely two years after the invasion of the Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which seceded from Azerbaijan in the 1990s during a bloody war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the fall of 2020, Baku, which considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of Azerbaijan, was able to conquer a large part of this Armenian settlement and expel its population through a successful invasion coordinated with Turkey.
Since that defeat – which rekindled the trauma of the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians – Yerevan’s army has been effectively unable to hold its own militarily against the overwhelming Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance. Armenia is poor; it has no mineral resources or energy sources. Azerbaijan, for its part, can not only maintain a military budget larger than Armenia’s entire national budget because of rich natural gas and oil reserves, but can also use the “gas weapon” as diplomatic leverage to isolate Armenia.
This was evident not only in the Azerbaijani-Turkish attack in 2020, when neither the West nor Russia could be persuaded to provide Armenia with substantial support, but also in the present, where a similar geopolitical constellation is emerging. Armenia is a member of the Russian-led post-Soviet military alliance CSTO, which the Kremlin wanted to build into a Eurasian counterpart to NATO. Shortly after Azerbaijan’s initial attacks, which were primarily directed against internationally recognized Armenian territory, Yerevan addressed the alliance, which includes six former Soviet republics, in a video conference requesting assistance. But Moscow, whose archaic military machine is currently reaching its breaking point in eastern Ukraine, responded evasively. Putin only agreed to send a team of CSTO observers.
Abandoned by Putin and the EU
It is not only the military catastrophe of recent days in eastern Ukraine that is forcing Moscow, which has had to reduce its troop presence in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, to exercise military restraint. Azerbaijan, swimming in foreign currency, is one of the Russian arms industry’s most important customers, and Azerbaijani dictator Aliyev maintains great relations with Putin. On the very eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on February 22, both autocratic leaders signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement.
Armenia, on the other hand, experienced a bourgeois “velvet revolution” in 2018, when the corrupt clique loyal to Putin was ousted and liberal, more Western-oriented forces around President Pashinyan came to power, daring a cautious democratization and rapprochement with the West – which Moscow punished with its cold inaction during the 2020 war.
However, Pashinyan’s biggest mistake was probably to have taken the West’s democratic rhetoric seriously, since the EU now wants to develop Azerbaijan into a central gas supplier –especially against the backdrop of the war over Ukraine. In July, the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was able to agree with the Azerbaijani autocrat Aliyev on the “expansion” of the southern gas corridor leading via Georgia and Turkey, which, at some point in the future, is supposed to transport twice the amount of gas to the EU. On the day of the attack on Armenia, Azerbaijan’s energy minister affirmed that his highly armed country intends to increase gas supplies to the EU by 30 percent this year alone. Azerbaijan is thus engaged in a similar small-scale geopolitical “seesaw policy” between Moscow and the West as Turkey is, in order to gain maximum concessions from both power blocs.
Moreover, for years Baku has simply bribed the Berlin and Brussels political establishment with millions of euros in order to make his point of view prevail. In initial statements EU representatives called on both sides to de-escalate the conflict, thus obscuring Baku’s clear attack.
Brussels and Berlin seem willing to pay for Azerbaijani natural gas with Armenian blood and territory, so that the valorization process in the EU – the material foundation of all airy European values – does not lose its energetic basis. For the current wave of attacks indicates that Baku and Ankara want to use the favorable opportunity to come close to two strategic goals: coercing Armenia to renounce the Armenian settlement areas in Nagorno-Karabakh and conquering a land connection between Turkey and Azerbaijan that would pass through southern Armenian territory.
Originally posted in analyse & kritik on 09/04/2022