Staunton, January 15 – Many people
in the Caucasus, Russia and the West are convinced that Russia’s actions have
opened the way to a final resolution of the Qarabagh dispute between Armenia
and Azerbaijan, Aleksandr Sitnikov says; but in fact, a resolution of this
conflict remains “as far away as the moon,” a reality Moscow recognizes and plans to exploit.
The disputes between the two sides are simply too deep, and Moscow, recognizing that, is trying to get out of its current moves the two things it wants most – excluding the West and reopening rail traffic – while making plans to build up Armenia with Russian drones to be ble to fight Azerbaijan later, the Russian analyst says (svpressa.ru/politic/article/287182/).
By organizing the tripartite talks both at the summit level in November and now and lower-level conversations in the coming months, the Kremlin is effectively sidelining the Western powers who are part of the Minsk Group process and thus reducing their ability to act in what Moscow sees as its backyard.
But that is not the only thing Moscow is doing, although this move has attracted the most attention, Sitnikov continues. It is also absorbing the lesson of the recent fighting that drones are essential, stepping up its own drone program, and planning to sell/supply Russian drones to Armenia over the five years that Russian peacekeepers are in place.
At the end of that time, the Moscow analyst says, Armenia will be far better able to defend itself and its claims in Qarabagh than it is today; and Moscow will avoid facing the risk of being drawn into any armed conflict there, one that could put it face-to-face with Turkish forces.
The reopening of the north-south rail line which Moscow calls “the Trans-Siberian of the Trans-Caucasus” clearly benefits Russia which can expand trade and Armenia which can revive its economy via exports. But it is not clear just what benefits Azerbaijan will get, and consequently, Washington and Ankara may encourage Baku to obstruct progress.
That makes it highly likely that “Baku will put sticks in the wheels.” But it also means that Moscow has a longer-term interest in building up the defense capabilities of Armenia before another outburst of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That is why Moscow wants to send its drones to Yerevan.
If that happens, Sitnikov says, the military advantages Azerbaijan currently enjoys thanks to Turkish drones will “instantly” disappear and the balance of power in the region will shift to Armenia as Russian drones are “more powerful and faster” than their Turkish counterparts. The outcome of a new war five years from now would thus be very different.
Sitnikov does not discuss the likelihood that any Russian dispatch of its drones to Armenia would cause a reaction in both Baku and Ankara, with the former deciding to take up arms sooner and the latter increasing its supply of drones and possibly inserting more of its forces into Azerbaijan.
If that happens, the Russian strategy the Svobodnaya pressa analyst outlines may in fact lead to a renewal of fighting far sooner than in five years and to one in which Russian forces precisely because of where they are located will be drawn in against the wishes of the Russian government.