War in the Caucasus

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Territorial Marshal
Feb 7, 2005
Sammamish, Washington.Dallas, Texas.Maui, Hawaii
War in the Caucasus Will Draw in Russia and Turkey
Armenia and Azerbaijan are on the brink of conflict that will roil NATO, the Middle East and oil markets.

James Stavridis
September 30, 2020, 2:00 AM CDT
Politics & Policy
The “frozen conflict” between Armenia and Azerbaijan has turned very hot. What may seem to many Westerners a minor clash in a remote corner of the world actually has significant implications for regional security, energy markets and the ambitions of two problematic strongmen: Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erodagan of Turkey.

The fighting, which goes back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, centers on a small enclave of ethnic Armenians inside Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous self-declared republic (which is not even formally recognized by its patron, Armenia) has a population of 150,000 but is highly militarized. The Azeris lost control of the area in a conflict in the 1990s that cost 30,000 lives, and despite much saber-rattling have been unable to get it back though diplomatic or military means.

In my time at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, I visited both countries several times. Dislike and distrust permeated the environment. The two defense chiefs at the time hated each other, and although both nations were nonmember partners with NATO (and had small troop contingents in Afghanistan), all that either man wanted to talk about was the duplicity and venality of the other. Unfortunately, each was accurately channeling the national view toward their neighbor in the Caucasus. Neither side seemed willing to give an inch, either literally and figuratively.

Over the four years I was at NATO, there were a number of half-hearted military thrusts by the Azeris, which were easily stopped by the Armenians. Our intelligence assessments found that the Armenians were almost certain to win if things came seriously to blows. The Russian Federation was supplying arms and training to both sides, and the Russians actually had a somewhat calming effect. You know things are bad when Putin is playing peacemaker.

In this latest escalation, as usual, both sides are claiming that the other attacked first; there were exchanges of fire in July leading to about a dozen Azeris killed (most of them soldiers). Casualties are now approaching 100. On Sunday, each side mobilized troops and declared martial law. On Tuesday, Armenia reported that one of its jets had been shot down by a Turkish F-16; Turkey denies the accusation.

There is a lack of any real push from outside nations to step in and negotiate a new cease-fire, something that has helped calm matters in the past, at least temporarily. The most recent effort was mediated by the so-called Minsk Group, with France, Russia and the U.S. in the lead, but collapsed in 2010.

What is particularly dangerous in this latest flare-up is that Turkey and Russia are strongly backing different horses. The Turks dislike the Armenians and support their fellow Muslims in Azerbaijan. (In Armenia, memories of massacres by the Ottoman Turks over a century ago remain a significant factor in national thinking.) Russia has a formal defense treaty and warm military-to-military relations with Armenia.

Bear in mind that the other nations adjacent to the fighting are ever-unstable Georgia and one of America’s most determined enemies, Iran. And that oil-rich Azerbaijan — with 7 billion barrels of proven reserves and large amounts of natural gas — has vulnerable pipelines that run as close as 10 miles from the Armenian border.

While I’ve been in the region several times when tensions were high, this time feels dangerously different. Washington is utterly distracted by the upcoming election. Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides (as they are in Syria and Libya as well). And the European Union is absorbed by the Brexit endgame and tensions at sea in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey. NATO, which still has partnerships with Armenia and Azerbaijan, says “both sides should immediately cease hostilities” and there is “no military solution to this conflict,” but offers no concrete proposal.

The chances of a peaceful settlement seem bleak. A new version of the Minsk group that would include Turkey could build confidence for a deal. Putin is close to the leaders of both countries, although Russia tilts strongly to fellow Christian Orthodox Armenia. Perhaps the U.S., Russia and Turkey, working together, could convince the two sides to turn away from the catastrophic path they are headed down.

An approach might begin with some symbolic return of land to the Azeris; a commitment by both nations to forswear use of firearms and explosives (just as China and India did after their recent small conflict at the “line of control” in the Himalayas); and a step-by-step approach on new border openings. Admittedly, none of that feels promising.

“The Black Garden,” a brilliant 2003 book by Thomas de Waal, traces the roots of the conflict. In the concluding pages, he says, “Any just solution to the [Nagorno-Karabakh] dispute will entail painful compromises on both sides, and it will have to balance radically opposing principles.” At the moment, such compromises seem far less likely than a small war with potentially large consequences.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
James Stavridis at jstavridis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates.
May 31, 2007
I know France & Russia are working hard to calm things down but Turkey seems to be doing the opposite. And now you’ve got Syrians & Libyans pouring in to try to jump start this thing. I don’t really know what would work here.


Territorial Marshal
Feb 7, 2005
Sammamish, Washington.Dallas, Texas.Maui, Hawaii
Which I was surprised not to see it there. It's a pretty good site for international stuff, maybe there will be some stuff tomorrow on it.
Yesterday was the first I saw it anywhere in the US. This story was the best one that broke down the reasons and possible outcomes. There was a video that I can’t find now that showed “5,000 civilians rushing to the border” in Armenia. I can’t validate what was going on in the video in English but the video showed a car traveling one way on a mountainous road, showing a traffic jam of cars trucks and suvs all in line. And it goes on for miles and miles.


Lettin' the high times carry the low....
A/V Subscriber
Oct 31, 2005
US media is not good at reporting international news
Oh yeah.....well.....umm......we are great at taking politicians out of context and reporting what talentless people that time will forget posted on their social media......so there. USA USA USA!!!


Territorial Marshal
Feb 7, 2005
Sammamish, Washington.Dallas, Texas.Maui, Hawaii
Oh yeah.....well.....umm......we are great at taking politicians out of context and reporting what talentless people that time will forget posted on their social media......so there. USA USA USA!!!

Not to derail my own thread but this meme sums up the American media and mindset right now. Trump gets called out for saying there’s good people on both sides and that’s because it’s true. As decades have passed of me pointing out the two major parties and their hypocrisies, it’s because of this. They specialize in framing the point of view. They all do it. Left. Right. It’s all a POV of the same reality. While singularly it appears correct, it’s collectively the truth.


LA Face with an Okla. booty.
A/V Subscriber
Apr 24, 2010
Los Angeles 90046
This has been getting attention in Los Angeles, because of the significant Armenian community. They shut down the 101 freeway last night. I don't know everything, but I do know generally speaking, Turkey is a very bad international actor. And I think it's atrocious that the US doesn't recognize the Armenian genocide.

I used to share an apartment with a woman in her 30s from Turkey. She legitimately had no idea about the Armenian genocide before she moved to Los Angeles. The level of state messaging was that intense for her.
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Territorial Marshal
Feb 7, 2005
Sammamish, Washington.Dallas, Texas.Maui, Hawaii
I went ahead and copied that here.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Major cities hit as heavy fighting continues
6 hours ago
Civilians and a BBC team fled shelling
Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Ganja, has been shelled by Armenian forces, as heavy clashes continue over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

The enclave is officially part of Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians.

The self-proclaimed authorities there said they hit Ganja's military airport after Azerbaijani forces shelled the region's capital, Stepanakert.

Azerbaijan says no Ganja military sites were hit. More than 220 people have died since clashes began a week ago.

Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, eventually declaring a ceasefire. However, they have never reached a settlement over the dispute.

The current fighting is the worst seen since the ceasefire and the two former Soviet republics have been blaming each other.

Crowds look at destroyed buildings in Ganja. Photo: 4 October 2020Azerbaijan's defence ministry
Several buildings in Ganja were destroyed, Azerbaijani officials say
Burning cars in Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Photo: 4 October 2020EPA
Stepanakert is reported to be without electricity after the shelling
There are fears that the actual death toll among the militaries from all sides as well as civilians could be much higher, as casualty claims have not been independently verified.

Azerbaijan's military says its forces have retaken control of seven villages since last Sunday, while Nagorno-Karabakh says its troops have "improved" their frontline positions.

What are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over?
Why Caucasus flare-up risks wider war
Earlier this week, Armenia said it stood "ready to engage" with mediators from France, Russia and the US to try to agree a ceasefire.

Azerbaijan, which is openly backed by Turkey, has demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas seized by ethnic Armenian troops.

"Nagorno-Karabakh is our land," Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday, as he demanded Armenia apologise to his country and provide a timetable for their withdrawal.

"This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs."

What's the latest from the battlefield?

In a brief statement on Sunday, Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling Ganja, a western Azerbaijani city lying to the north of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Defence Minister Zakary Hasanov said this was a "clearly provocative" move that was expanding the conflict.

One civilian was killed, local media reported.

In a later statement, the defence ministry said: "The information spread by the Armenian side about the alleged shelling of military facilities in Ganja city is provocative and false.

"As a result of enemy fire, civilians, civilian infrastructure and ancient historical buildings were harmed."

Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh
Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh's authorities said that they had destroyed Ganja's military airport.

They said they had acted after Stepanakert was hit by missiles and alleged the Ganja facility had been used by Azerbaijani forces to launch attacks on civilian areas.

Heavy casualties were reported in Stepanakert, which was left without electricity, according to Armenpress news agency. Buses of people were seen leaving the city on Saturday.

Armenpress quoted the separatist region's leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, as warning that "from now on the military facilities permanently deployed in Azerbaijan's major cities are legitimate targets of the defence army".

Mr Harutyunyan added that he had now ordered the shelling stopped, "to prevent the deaths of innocent peaceful civilians".

Turkey condemned the shelling of Ganja, accusing Armenia of "targeting civilians".

But Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said that "that no fire of any kind is being opened from the territory of Armenia in Azerbaijan's direction".

Armenia provides military and economic support to Nagorno-Karabakh without officially recognising the self-proclaimed region.

'Casualties all over Ganja'

By Konul Khalilova, Editor, BBC News Azerbaijani

For the more than 330,000 residents of Ganja, this morning brought horror - the city was being shelled by forces fighting for Armenia.

"We heard a big explosion. It was shocking and dreadful. Children were scared," one resident told us. "We left our apartment and went to a shelter."

A nurse in one of the main hospitals said several injured civilians had been brought in.

"My husband saw the body of a woman in a pool of blood. There are casualties all over the city," she said.

Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh have urged residents of major Azerbaijani cities to leave, warning that military sites there are now legitimate targets.

But Ganja resident Elnur Bayramov said he and his family were not scared.

"We are not going to leave our house, our city, we are not going to become internally displaced people," he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh's authorities have confirmed that 201 of their service personnel and a number of civilians have died since the fighting erupted on 27 September.

Azerbaijan says 22 civilians have been killed, without providing information about its military casualties.

Nagorno-Karabakh - key facts

A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
Self-proclaimed authorities are not recognised by any UN member, including Armenia
An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-94, and about 30,000 killed
Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan
Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire
Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
Russia has a military base in Armenia
Ros Atkins explains why fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh continues to intensify
Nov 6, 2010
I'm starting to wonder if it is just getting too hot for reporters over there. I couldn't find anything on it on BBC or Real Clear World this morning.