The Slow Plod to War

Tension continues to mount along the line of occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, as Armenian forces test Azerbaijan’s readiness for battle and Baku and Yerevan prepare for war.

Good news though: A meeting of the Minsk Group may yet happen again!

Ilham Aliyev won a resounding victory in October’s presidential elections in Azerbaijan, with his greatest support in the areas bordering the Armenian-occupied provinces. Whatever might be said of the Azerbaijani government and opposition, they are functionally united in a desire to regain their conquered territory, and after years of offered compromises, the country’s tolerance for the ongoing trouble is thin.

Aliyev’s mandate derives in part from his handling of the situation, and so he has shrewdly recognized that he has some room remaining to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. This week, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister met with his opposite to continue a dialogue in lieu of the increasingly likely war. This follows a meeting between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Vienna in November, which sadly did not serve the reduce tensions along the occupied border.

These face-to-face meetings are good — Churchill’s maxim about the desirability of jaw-jaw over war-war is usually true — but Armenia has clearly decided that if it maintains a presence in Nagorno-Karabakh for long enough, the world will recognize the fruits of its aggression as a nominally independent state. Yerevan faces no pressure from the rest of the world, and the peace process appears to be devoted to the idea of an indefinite process rather than a resolution, so there is no external mechanism to goad an unwilling participant into compromise.

A recent Armenian offensive along the border — after a steady uptick in violence over the last few years — is a sign that peace is no longer in danger of breaking out. Azerbaijan lost during Armenia’s invasion in the early 1990s as Armenia enjoyed Russian aid and rough military parity in terms of materiel and personnel numbers. Today, Azerbaijan boasts greater wealth, access to greater arms, and a united and angry populace. Armenia is one of the worst-performing economies on planet Earth, its political corruption poisoning its economic development, and in the absence of Russian arms and protection, would have no chance at all in a conflict today.

Russia — and Western indifference — are the keys to this conflict. If Moscow withdrew its support today, Yerevan would be forced to come to the table. However, Vladmir Putin knows that his lifeline is what keeps Armenia’s occupation and economy possible, and called in his chips in 2013 by pressuring Armenia to reject any closer ties to Europe. Clearly, Yerevan is aware of this as well.

The West, lost in its own financial troubles and a generation of political incompetents at its head, has essentially abandoned the world it has made, and made war more likely across the globe. When conflict finally breaks out here, there will be stern communiques, and angry diplomatic notes, and indifference, and death.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons