Why then have the Azerbaijani Armed Forces still not carried out a military “clean-up”? In Karabakh they are facing only 8-10,000 separatists and contractors of the Armenian Armed Forces, who have little heavy weaponry and are surrounded by three heavily armed corps of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces totaling 50,000 and controlling the dominant heights.
There are three, roughly speaking, constraints.
The first is the Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh and the Russian base in Armenia. Despite all disagreements, Yerevan remains Moscow’s ally and military partner. Azerbaijan is not interested in a direct clash with Russia, even if Russia has now committed its main forces to Ukraine. Baku has good economic and political ties with Moscow, and it would not want to cut them.
The second factor is the possible humanitarian consequences of the assault on Khankendi and the negative reaction to them on the part of third countries, primarily in the West. Although Azerbaijan, like its closest ally Türkiye, has certain immunity (the West does not want to quarrel with Türkiye and the pro-Turkish bloc, as these forces are too influential and important for it), if there are civilian casualties, “complications” may arise.
The fate of the Zangezur corridor remains another challenging issue. Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that it has no military targets on Armenian territory. However, Armenia continues to scare its public and its allies with Azerbaijan’s plans to “seize Syunik” (the Armenian name for Western Zangezur), especially after the Azerbaijani Armed Forces advanced in this direction to adjust the borders, taking several square kilometers of territory illegally held by Yerevan.
This project is of strategic importance for Azerbaijan and Türkiye, the two closest allies in the region. But it could trigger a military confrontation with Iran. Tehran seems to be rather indifferent to the Karabakh problem, but considers the Zangezur corridor to be its “red line”. Iran’s leadership does not want Türkiye and its allies to become stronger and therefore seeks to ensure that communication between Türkiye and Nakhchivan on the one hand and mainland Azerbaijan on the other should go through its territory, as is the case today. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not allow the Zangezur corridor to happen, as this project could upset the balance of power in the region.
Thus, the protection of Armenia’s territorial interests is ensured by its two allies, Russia and Iran, opponents of the West, and, to some extent, by the West itself. It seems surprising that the West continues to support Armenia. This applies to the United States as well, and especially to France. It would appear that by the logic of geopolitics, the West, on the contrary, would be interested in crushing Armenia because it would be a blow to Russia and Iran. But the West’s actions are different, with many Western politicians sympathizing with Armenia and pressuring Azerbaijan to prevent it from regaining control of Karabakh. This may be due to the powerful influence of the Armenian diaspora. Besides, Armenia had a velvet revolution in 2018, and the country now often talks about its “pro-European democratic choice”.
Probably realizing the uncertainty and complexity of the situation, Pashinyan makes extensive use of pro-Western rhetoric, but at the same time makes diplomatic efforts to maintain and improve ties with Moscow and Tehran.
His state has a weak, currently unfit to fight, army that has not recovered from the defeat in the 44-day war (while the victors, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, continue to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art precision weapons from Israel and Türkiye).
Armenia maintains its current state, retaining West Zangezur and a small part of Karabakh, thanks to inconceivable political acrobatics between the Iran-Russia bloc and the West. But it is a very fragile combination. There is no way to know how long it will last.
Mikhail Shereshevsky, political analyst, Middle East expert
Translated from Minval.az