As has become customary, the recent war in Karabakh is viewed from two sides in Russia: liberals extol the virtues of Turkish generals trained by NATO and Israeli drones, while both secret and obvious Putin admirers tell us on Liva (russo-ukrainian media) that revolutionaries (in quotes or without) always lose wars. There is not a grain of truth in this dichotomy. The militia armies created by the bourgeois revolutions have had great victories. Not only in the 19th century. Actually, the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic began with the victory of the Armenian militia in the war three decades ago. Then, Azerbaijan was richer, had a more numerous and well-armed army, but if Azerbaijan had local successes in that war, then they are associated not with former president Mutalibov, the director of a local refrigerator plant, or the KGB general Aliyev, but with a short period of rule by a half-crazy dissident-pan-Turkist, Elchibey. Unlike the draftees, students and workers who were arrested on the streets of Baku, his supporters at least understood why they were fighting. It was this factor that ensured the victory of Armenia in that war; high fighting morale and conscientious discipline of the militia army, formed against the background of a high level of education and general culture. The war in Karabakh, and the hardships and casualties associated with it, became the foundation of modern Armenia.
What has changed in a quarter of a century? Has Azerbaijan advanced by leaps and bounds? It has not. Of course, a decade of expensive oil made it possible to decorate the external appearance of Baku, and even the military budget of Azerbaijan alone in those years was sometimes more than the consolidated budget of all of Armenia. But this did not make most of the working people richer. Unlike Armenia, where poverty is almost universal and striking even in the capital of the country, in Azerbaijan poverty has been pushed into the provinces and urban outskirts, where even the most pitiful rivulets of petrodollars cannot reach. According to the Russian agency of statistics' data for 2018, every fourth migrant in Russia is an Azerbaijani. Countries with this social structure rarely win wars. Does this mean Armenia has become weaker? Why did the cohesion of Armenians as a nation not have a decisive influence in this war? There are both socio-political and purely military reasons for this.
The side that loses the war, as a rule, draws some conclusions from the defeat; often constructive. Meanwhile the winners are celebrating. This is a general rule. The political elite of Armenia, which ruled the country until 2018, almost entirely emerged from the Karabakh movement, which aimed to return Artsakh to Armenia. The problem was that most of them, in fact, were natives of the NKAO or lived there for a long time. It was these people who did not allow Ter-Petrosyan to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan on their own terms and from a position of strength in the late 90s. The militia army is a great force, but once it finds itself outside the democratic control of the masses, its troops tend to turn into corrupt gangs. After the resignation of Ter-Petrosyan, an intellectual and a prominent political leader, this process accelerated dramatically. The visible side of the "war of clans" was the seizure of the Armenian parliament by terrorists in 1999 and the assassination of the country's prime minister - the former leader and creator of the Yerkrapah militia Vazgen Sargsyan, who did not belong to the Kocharian clan.
From that moment on, the attitude towards the free carrying of weapons by members of militia units in Armenia began to change. Kocharian is trying to create a more professional and self-controlled army. Due to the lack of finances, this process became systematic only in the 2010s, when the natural process of generational change in the Armenian army resulted in the gradual replacement of conscripts with contract soldiers in sergeant positions.
From the point of view of the Liva observer, is the attempt by the Armenian masses on the power of the corrupt and criminal Kocharian group, which internally has brought the Armenian people to poverty, and externally - to an almost inevitable war, is it a crime? This says a lot about Liva itself! When I hitchhiked around Armenia a few years ago, a smuggler gave us a lift with a driver and bodyguard who was a serving army officer. At night he still had time to do car tinting. He hardly had much time left for combat training! The Karabakh military elite did not want peace, because the undefined status of Karabakh allowed them to do their dark deeds. For the same reason, they did not want democracy. On this basis, they agreed with Putin.
For Yeltsin's Russia, the Karabakh conflict was just a burden, a problem that its diplomats, albeit sluggishly, tried to help resolve. For Putin's regional imperialism, Karabakh became a chance to cling to the Transcaucasus and establish political and economic control over Armenia. Russian business has felt at home here for many years. Occasionally "assaults" and corruption scandals that have happened at times fit into this concept. Both the Russian and Armenian authorities were quite happy with the status quo. That is why, with the arrival of Putin and the departure of Ter-Petrosyan, the peace initiatives of Russia and Armenia on Karabakh quickly came to naught.
There is a good rule in politics - the dead should not be a burden for the living. You cannot form a national idea around the tragic pages of history. In the case of Armenia, there were objective prerequisites for such a development of events, but it is also the result of the conscious policy of the country's leadership over the course of decades. Due to the closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan for political reasons, the country found itself in an economic blockade. Armenia is separated from the rest of the EAEU by two customs borders with Georgia and mountain passes. In winter, the Cross Pass on the Georgian Military Highway is often closed due to weather conditions; in addition, the Russian authorities have a habit of closing it in case of political conflicts with Georgia. All this has an extremely negative effect on the economy of the republic.
In 2018, Pashinyan came to power in the wake of a popular revolution, among slogans of which was the demand for peace and the normalization of relations with neighbours. Back in October 2018, when meeting with Ilham Aliyev in Dushanbe, he agreed to reduce tensions on the border. But finding himself under the attack of "hawks", sandwiched between geopolitical realities and the national idea, Pashinyan "floated". The demonstrative coldness of Putin, which has a subjective nature under it, also played a role here: fear of the revolution and distrust of its leaders - a feeling that is also encountered among many people who consider themselves left in Russia. Feeling Pashinyan's weakness, the Armenian diaspora in Europe and the United States began to put pressure on him. In August 2019, in the capital of Karabakh, Pashinyan said: “Karabakh is Armenia, period,” his wife, who previously led the “movement for peace”, now posed in military uniform, and in August this year, the president and prime minister of Armenia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Sevres Peace Treaty, which presupposed the partition of Turkey and the creation of an independent Armenian state. Erdogan has been pressed on his pet peeve. This demonstration followed the two weeks of mutual shelling of each other's territories by Armenia and Azerbaijan in July, for which the Armenian side appears to be responsible.
Azerbaijan has been preparing for war for a long time. The "four-day" war of 2016 was a kind of test of strength for Azerbaijan. Now there is a reason for a new attempt. Thanks to Erdogan, Aliyev had a new trump card - several thousand Syrian mercenaries from among the Turkoman Islamist militias with extensive experience in fighting in mountains. Liberal military experts tend to admire the depth of the tactical design of the Turkish generals planning the operation. But in fact, they acted quite opportunistically. It was in the Araks valley that the main battles took place in 2016, and the war of the early 90s ended swiftly with the Horadiz operation. The question of whether the attack of the 1st Army Corps of Azerbaijan in the direction of the Sarsang reservoir in the north of the NKR was a diversionary strike or a failed main tactical strike remains open.
In the early 90s, Armenia occupied large territories around the NKR. Their fates of these areas were different. Some, such as the strategically important city of Lachin (Berdzor), located on the road connecting Stepenokert with Armenia, or lying on the banks of the Sarsang reservoir Drmbon (where a mining and processing plant was built), were actually annexed and populated by ethnic Armenians. Other territories, primarily the Araks valley, which carries its waters along the Iranian border, were to become a bargaining chip in the course of negotiations on the independence of Karabakh. After the Azerbaijani population left these areas, they were never settled, although they were controlled by the NKR army. Unlike the border in the north of the republic, at the point of adjoining the line of separation, they were not reinforced from the Armenian side with engineering structures. Strategic roads were in poor condition. In addition, for the militia - the defense of empty ruins, which tomorrow may have to be transferred to the enemy under a peace treaty, is always a factor of demoralization.
Therefore, purely in military terms, an advance along the Araks valley and the successful development of this offensive along the Akari valley to Lachin, seems to be a more realistic task than conducting an offensive operation in the mountains. The problem is that when advancing along a narrow valley, the army opens its flank for cutting-off strikes from the mountains, primarily from the regions of the Armenian city of Hadrut and the former Azerbaijani Jebrail, located a little to the west. While the NKR army was holding these points, the advance of the Azerbaijani army along the valley was adventurist in nature.
As we now know, Jebrail was lost on October 4 by the end of the first week of fighting. The next few days of fighting came to define the conflict. The attempts of the Armenian counter-offensive against Jabrayil ended in failure, and after a few days the demoralized Armenian units left Hadrut. The loss of Hadrut, the end point of the North-South highway, one of the two main transport arteries of Karabakh, sharply complicated the position of the Armenian army. For a week, the Azerbaijani army repelled the attacks of the NKR army in this direction, and then continued its offensive up the Araks, occupying the area of the Khudaferin reservoir and north-east to the Fizuli region. At that moment, the southern front of the NKR army collapsed. Zangelan was taken on October 20 with practically no resistance, Kubatly fell on October 25. The Armenian army concentrated all reserves on the approaches to Goris and Lachin, only in order to suddenly lose Shusha on November 8 - a fortress on the heights over Stepanakert. Events unfolded in exactly the same way as during the fall of Hadrut: the penetration of assault mountain-rifle units along mountain paths into the rear of the defensive lines. Some media outlets indicate that the Turkish mountain special forces (1200 fighters) were involved in these operations, specially trained to conduct military operations in the mountains against Kurdish guerrillas. One way or another, what happened is a gross miscalculation by the Armenian intelligence, both at the military level and at the level of the General Staff. Counter-intelligence also proved to be no better: from the first days of the war, the NKR army suffered losses among the command staff. But according to Novaya Gazeta, a local cultural center in Shusha was under attack, in which, according to local residents, hundreds of military and police officers gathered for a meeting. On a smaller scale, such events were repeated over and over again.
Not surprisingly, from the second week onwards the word "betrayal" could be heard more and more among the soldiers. The conscript army and even more so the militia are most sensitive to such rumors. In contrast to the war of 1989-94, there were numerous cases of desertion and abandonment of positions without an order in the Armenian army. However, all that the military police could do was try to expel all foreign journalists from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia suffered a heavy defeat. The point here is not only the lost former "security belt", from where the Armenian population is to be evacuated, but also the historical territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The situation of the Armenian minority is unlikely to be any better than that of the Serbs in northern Kosovska-Mitrovica. The introduction of Russian peacekeepers could prevent an immediate massacre here, but the gradual migration of ethnic Armenians from the region and its Turkization will be inevitable if left to the "natural" course of events. The alternative is war. The fact that the Pashinyan regime has not yet fallen shows the extreme fatigue of the Armenian society as well as its frustration. Awareness of the severity of the defeat and the depth of the betrayal by the authorities is still ahead. As soon as this happens Armenia will be on the verge of a new revolution.
The subtle point is that Erdogan's regime in Turkey, which probably became the initiator and was an active participant in the war, is itself also unstable. In the event of his fall, Armenia will try to take revenge and the war will flare up with renewed vigor. Of course, the "small victorious war" strengthened Erdogan's position in Turkey, but this is a short-term effect that cannot overshadow in the eyes of the working people the falling living standards of the masses and the protracted crisis of the Turkish economy. The same, but even to a greater extent, can be said about Ilkhan Aliyev, who now, when the Russian peacekeeping contingent is in Artsakh, has much more chances of quarreling with Russia. For Azerbaijan, heterogeneous in socio-economic and ethnic terms, the return of refugees and their descendants to the regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh is a costly and difficult task. Many will have to be moved by force. In addition, this will inevitably lead to the curtailment of most social programs in the country.
Has Putin won or was he defeated? On the one hand, Russian soldiers are now within reach of the South Caucasus gas pipeline - on the other hand, local partisan saboteurs could easily undermine this. Has Putin's influence in the Caucasus grown? Definitely not — Turkey has shown that as a regional imperialist, it is more interested in the region. Putin's ability to resolve the conflict was very limited, or he lacked the political will to use his capabilities. Nothing speaks in his favour. Failure to protect your ally cannot be considered a sign of strength.
The events of recent weeks have turned the scales in Karabakh, but have not removed the roots of the contradictions. The bloody conflicts in Transcaucasia will not end until all the peoples of the region: Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Lezgins, Avars, Talysh, Tats and Kudras throw off their capitalist chains and re-establish the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic!