Karabakh: Russia Won Another War Without Firing A Single Shot

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmet Mehmet

Rabi' al-Awwal 16, 1445 2023-10-01

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Mehmet (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

On September 11, the US military held joint drills with Armenian armed forces under what was code-named Eagle Partner 2023. Eight days later, Azerbaijan launched military operations against Armenian nationalist militias still occupying parts of Karabakh. The Armenians were soundly defeated.

Those familiar with the situation in the region can easily put two and two together. Russia will not tolerate American military and political encroachment into the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (currently serving as Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia) proclaimed in 2008 that Moscow views the countries of the former Soviet Union as its strategic and privileged sphere of influence.

Medvedev’s declaration was made about three weeks after Russia attacked the Republic of Georgia in August 2008. This was the time Tbilisi was getting too close to the US and its surrogates.

Thus, analyzing recent events in Karabakh from the perspective of only the unelected Aliyev regime in Baku would miss the point. Those familiar with the background of the Azeri regime understand that such policies are not made independently of Moscow. It is way above the paygrade of Ilham Aliyev to launch a war in a geopolitically sensitive region like the Caucasus, on his own.

The recent military confrontation in Karabakh has more to do with Russia and its geopolitics than Azerbaijan or Armenia. It should also be noted that it has now become public knowledge that Europe indirectly buys Russian gas via Azerbaijan under the label of Azerbaijani gas.

As reported by the Economist Intelligence Unit in July 2023, while Azerbaijan increased its supply of gas to the EU, Aliyev is only able to do so because he is buying additional gas from Russia, supposedly for domestic consumption.

Through the most recent military skirmish in Karabakh which began on September 19 and came to a halt on September 23, Russia won another geopolitical war in the region which it did not fight directly.

In November 2020, Crescent International had highlighted that completion of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) which will bring natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Western Europe bypassing Russia, will reignite regional tensions. Exactly 10 months later, the war in Karabakh began. It was foreseeable that Russia would want to exercise some control over the route near TANAP. Hence, one month prior to the start of military operations in Karabakh in 2020, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Azerbaijan. It can thus be concluded with some degree of confidence that Shoigu likely gave Aliyev Russia’s approval to start attacking Armenian nationalist militias.

Events of the last month in Karabakh demonstrate that Russia exercises significant control over the region. It also confirms that at any point, Moscow can easily shut down Europe’s alternative source of energy products.

After Russia launched its full-scale war in Ukraine in February 2022, Europe partly compensated for Russian gas by buying gas from Central Asia and the Caucasus. This substitution is only possible due to the Kremlin agreeing to such an arrangement.

Recent events in Karabakh have also demonstrated the almost total elimination of Armenia as an independent state. This situation is likely to last for many years. For a very long time, Yerevan pursued hyper nationalist policies. Its only source of reliance in pursuing such a state strategy was Moscow’s backing.

It seems that prior to launching its military invasion of Ukraine, Moscow realized that Armenia has nowhere to turn to in geopolitical terms. Yerevan is destined to be subordinate to Russia for geopolitical and historical reasons.

Azerbaijan on the other hand, has other options and can turn away from Moscow. Thus, under Russian calculations the Aliyev regime was given maximum incentive to remain within the Russian geopolitical orbit. By allowing Aliyev to launch military operations in 2020 to regain occupied territories, the Kremlin made sure that in its confrontation with NATO, the regime in Baku is not bribed to side with Russia’s strategic opponents.

It should be noted that Aliyev’s deal with Russia was not for the benefit of the state of Azerbaijan. It was made simply based on the interests of his family: to remain in power. No regime in the Caucasus and Central Asia can survive without Moscow’s approval of their strategic policies.

Moscow implemented a geopolitical chess move. It is virtually impossible for western powers to outmaneuver Russia anytime soon in the post-Soviet regions.

It will, however, be naïve to assume that the US and its surrogates will not try to retaliate against Russia in some form. The recent joint military drills in Armenia show that Washington will exploit any opening it can against Russia in the region.

Utilizing Armenian vulnerability after Russia refused to support it against its regional archrival, the US showed to Russia that it should not take the calm on its southern borders for granted. The American move in Armenia, however, lacked sophistication. For Yerevan a radical switch into the US camp would mean the permanent end of its statehood. Any student of political science could have told this to the American political and military establishment.

American drills in Armenia highlight that Washington lacks a coherent strategy and is in a reactive mode in the region. This will further embolden Russia which does not care what advances the US makes in places like Sweden or Finland. It is battling for supremacy in the post-Soviet regions; other locales are secondary to Russian interests.

For the Muslim world the ongoing tussle between Moscow and Washington means that Muslims must avoid past mistakes and not be used to advance the interests of either imperialist camp to the detriment of their own societies. This will be particularly difficult for Muslims of the former Soviet Union, as the region lacks a properly organized and popular Islamic socio-political movement.

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