"The war was inevitable, but it is not the end yet"- experts analyze the second Karabakh
A year after the second Karabakh war, the book “Storm in the Caucasus” was published, which presents an analysis of this conflict by a group of political scientists and military experts. This research study was initiated by the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
The authors analyze the details of large-scale hostilities in 2020, from their background and international context to the sensational information from the battlefield and mistakes made by the Armenian side.
In this article, the researchers themselves present their main hypotheses and explain how they came to their main conclusions.
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“The war was inevitable”
The 44-day war raised many questions that remained unanswered, at the same time, it went according to the classic scenario, says Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, editor of the book Storm in the Caucasus:
“This war has proved once again that no tactical tricks, no individual heroism can compensate for strategic failure, lack of control, poor military planning and supply. Everything that we read in textbooks, we saw in this war”.
The analyst claims that the inevitability of the war was obvious 15 years ago, and then it was already clear that this time the outcome of the war would not be in Armenia’s favor:
“For a number of reasons, it was clear that the situation was dramatically changing not in favor of Armenia. In 2018, we released a study called Waiting for the Storm: South Caucasus. As a matter of fact, among the main predictions made there were the ones claiming that the war would happen and Armenia would lose. However, it should be noted that we did not think that the war would be lost with such a devastating “score”, with such great sacrifices, and would be so protracted”.
Azerbaijan’s attempts to unleash a war were more than obvious, says the book’s co-author, director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan. In this regard, the question arises why the Armenian side did not prepare for it:
“I am sure that the war could have been foreseen, because Azerbaijan had been preparing for this war at least since the 2000s and did not hide it.
But political upheavals led to the fact that for the first time in the history of independent Armenia, the Karabakh issue ceased to be in the center of attention of Armenian public thought. People who came to power as a result of the 2018 revolution did not say a single word about Karabakh – neither during the revolution nor during the elections that followed. Everything revolved around social issues and problems related to the structure of the country ”.
Why Armenia lost
The authors of the study “Storm in the Caucasus”, referring to their sources, reveal some sensational details.
The book states, for example, that during the war, the Armenian Armed Forces shot down their own four SU-25 attack aircraft and one MI-8 helicopter. Two of them were shot down on the territory of Armenia when they were returning after completing a combat mission.
According to one of the authors of the book, military expert Leonid Nersisyan, this situation speaks not so much about the failure of the air defense, but about the lack of communication between the aviation and the air defense forces:
“I don’t think that air defense has failed in its mission. […] Shooting down 180 drones in 44 days is not a bad result. Moreover, I don’t know, I don’t remember a single conflict in the world where such an indicator would have been fixed”.
At the same time, the expert emphasizes that the air defense systems of the Armenian side were limited and outdated. But the expert believes that the main reason for the country’s defeat was its unpreparedness.
“As in the April events in 2016, the troops met this war unprepared. There was no preparation, most of the weapons, including air defense systems, were at their permanent deployment points and were destroyed by the first strike. This greatly influenced the further outcome of the war.
In the conditions of the complete superiority of Azerbaijan in the air, it was very difficult to bring large units into the Artsakh. Such attempts at the first stage of the war were made and ended in heavy losses during air strikes on the columns”, the expert notes.
In his opinion, the outcome of the war was predetermined even before it began. He believes that with due determination of the military-political leadership, Armenia could, on the basis of intelligence data, bring one or two army corps to Nagorno-Karabakh in advance. This would increase the number of troops from 20,000-25,000 to 40,000-45,000 and could even prevent Azerbaijan’s intention to start a war.
Ruslan Pukhov agrees that unpreparedness played a decisive role in the defeat of the Armenian side:
“Now a certain cult of Bayraktars, drones has been created. They certainly played an important role, but there were many other elements that allowed Azerbaijan to win such a crushing victory. There are a number of questions that need to be answered when some archives are opened. But it is already clear that in addition to the financial, demographic and military imbalance, the Armenians were punished for their fatal arrogance.
The myth that the Armenians created as a result of the first war [about their military superiority] played a cruel joke on the Armenians. The Azerbaijanis also partly believed in this myth, but it worked in their favor – they seriously prepared for the war. and, despite the heavy losses, defeated Armenians”.
Why were the superpowers silent?
According to the director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan, the Turkish-Azerbaijani political tandem has chosen the right moment to implement its plans, given the political problems of the superpowers:
“It is obvious that the unpreparedness of the Armenian side was also conditioned by the hope for political instruments, hope that the whole world would collapse and would not allow it. But no one was up to this. The geopolitical situation was different.
There were decisive presidential elections in the United States, Brexit in Europe, a general crisis of governance in the European Union, serious problems in NATO between Brussels and Turkey. The Belarusian crisis, the Russian-Ukrainian unquenchable crisis, the crisis with the Nord Stream. Also Covid-19 and its political consequences. Aliyev and Erdogan found the perfect moment to start the war”.
Role of Turkey and Russia
The co-author of the study, an expert on international and Russian-Turkish relations, Kerim Has, believes that Turkey’s participation in the war was decisive:
“Turkey is better prepared for the war than Azerbaijan. This was a reflection of Turkey’s foreign policy activity in recent years, from Syria, Libya to Afghanistan and Ukraine. In Nagorno-Karabakh, we saw that Turkey experienced Moscow’s “red lines” in the post-Soviet space.
For the first time, Turkey has moved its military operations to the post-Soviet space. The basis was not only Turkish-Azerbaijani diplomatic relations, but also relations between the leaders of these two countries – personal and financial”.
According to Has, the goal of Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation was to limit Russia’s ambitions, and in this they were partly successful:
“Not only Turkey participated in the war and supported Azerbaijan, but Russia also gave the green light to the Azerbaijani side. Russia did not want to jeopardize its relations with Turkey in other spheres and regions. The proof is the location of the Russian-Turkish joint monitoring center in Agdam, which, in fact, plays a purely symbolic role”.
New World War?
Co-author of the book, professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi Georgy Derlugyan believes that the latest Karabakh war should be viewed in the light of large-scale geopolitical changes:
“All this has ceased to be a local conflict. This is a small world war. This is how world wars begin. We live in the era of the collapse of American hegemony. Yes, it is a very important country, like Russia, but it is not at all what it was 30 years ago.
Through a clash over this tiny Karabakh, there is a return to a policy that is almost forgotten. After all, the Ottoman Empire was also a world power. By the way, the collapse of the Soviet Union began 35 years ago from Karabakh. Karabakh belongs to the category of small symbolically important places that “explode”. That is how it will remain”.
For the authors of the book “Storm in the Caucasus”, one of the main questions remains why the 44-day war ended with the fall of Shushi:
“On the 44th day, something happened that was not directly related to Armenian politicians or the West. But this made Azerbaijan stop. Whether this was Russia’s interference or a sign of internal weakness, I cannot say. But the question arises why the war ended with the fall of Shushi and the downed [by Azerbaijan] Russian helicopter.
While military experts argue that the battles for Shushi were equally exhausting for both sides, and the Russian helicopter could not be shot down by accident. This means that there was some kind of interference, as a result of which everything ended in under-victory and under-peace. This means that we have seen the second act of the war. And the most important question – will we see the third one?”, says Georgy Derlugyan.
According to the director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan, the likelihood of large-scale hostilities in the near future is small, but the war is not over at all:
“I am sure that I will not live to see the final settlement of the Karabakh conflict. And we do not know whether the younger participants will survive, but it is possible. It is obvious to me that not only the Armenians need to draw conclusions, but also Russia, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, etc.
There is a situation that will develop into a certain model. And it will last a long time. This situation will evolve in different ways in different countries. It has not yet acquired the status quo”.
Ruslan Pukhov believes that the time has come to learn the lessons and face the truth directly:
“For me, the situation is absolutely obvious: Turkey’s ally won, Russia’s ally lost. Accordingly, Russia also lost. It needs to learn a lesson that the Armenians hopefully learned at a very high price. Russia is used to being a military hegemon, but it must understand that it has lost this role in the post-Soviet space.
In addition, the Armenian society must shake itself up, pick up bloody snot, stop blaming everyone for its troubles and work on its mistakes. Moscow should do the same”.
Meanwhile, military expert Leonid Nersisyan states that after the war Armenia did not draw any conclusions, and this could lead to even greater losses:
“A whole year has passed in vain, nothing has changed in terms of reforms in the Armenian Armed Forces. Armenia has three years to recover. If the level of reforms is the same as now, everything will end sadly, and this will be a motivating factor for Azerbaijan not to renew the mandate [of the peacekeeping mission, which ends in 2025 – JAMnews] and deal with the rest of NK”.
Georgy Derlugyan believes that the war has not ended the conflict, it has become sharper:
“Azerbaijan’s goals have not been achieved. The balance point has not been reached. We are now moving towards an unknown world. The Karabakh conflict is a part of world geopolitics with a lot of uncertainties.
It is obvious to me that all states that are involved in the conflict will also go through political and economic turmoil over the next 5-7 years. Leadership, political programs will change, there will be attempts to prevent change through revolutions and counter-revolutions. The outcome of the conflict is unpredictable, but it is clear that this is not the end”.