Category Archives: South Caucasus Region

Les drones, étendard de la puissance azerbaïdjanaise au Haut-Karabakh

This image is taken from a video released by the Armenian Defense Ministry on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, allegedly shows the shooting down of an Azerbaijani unmanned aerial vehicle

Depuis bientôt trois semaines, le vrombissement menaçant des drones militaires accompagne le quotidien des habitants du Haut-Karabakh. « On a appris à les reconnaître à l’oreille », confie par téléphone Anush Ghavalyan, une analyste politique résidant à Stepanakert, la capitale de ce territoire peuplé d’Arménien, que revendique l’Azerbaïdjan. « Les Azerbaïdjanais s’en étaient déjà servi en 2016, mais là c’est du jamais vu. »

L’Azerbaïdjan fait un emploi immodéré des drones dans le conflit qui l’oppose depuis le 27 septembre aux forces séparatistes du Haut-Karabakh soutenues par l’Arménie. Servant à espionner les positions ennemies, guider les frappes d’artillerie, ou détruire des cibles au sol, ces aéronefs sans pilote ont permis à une armée azerbaïdjanaise mieux équipée de conforter sa supériorité. Le président du Haut-Karabakh, Araïk Haroutiounian a reconnu mercredi 14 octobre que les troupes séparatistes avaient été contraintes à reculer en plusieurs endroits de la ligne de front. Continue reading

Nagorno-Karabakh: New weapons for an old conflict spell danger

The new war over Nagorno-Karabakh is a conventional one, being fought by professional armed forces.

But this time, hi-tech 21st-century weaponry has the capacity to make this decades-old conflict more destructive than ever before. If official battlefield statistics are to be believed, the death toll is staggering. Azerbaijan has yet to confirm the number of its war dead. But Armenia claimed to have killed or wounded 5,000 Azeri personnel at the time of writing. Armenia has regularly updated its military body count, which so far stands at almost 500. Azerbaijan has estimated the real number is many times higher. Claims about territorial gains and losses inflicted on each side have proven difficult to verify. Not only have media teams limited access to the front-line fighting, but an aerial bombardment of civilian areas has also made their work extremely hazardous. Continue reading

Pourquoi l’Arménie et l’Azerbaïdjan s’affrontent dans le Haut-Karabakh

Armenian Artillery Units (Reuters)

Armenian Artillery Units (Reuters)

DÉCRYPTAGE – Des combats transfrontaliers ont fait des dizaines de morts depuis le 27 septembre entre les deux pays, qui se disputent la région autonome du Haut-Karabakh. Un conflit ancestral, où Russie et Turquie ont des intérêts concurrents.

Faut-il croire les bilans annoncés ? En seulement 24 heures, pas moins de «550 soldats ennemis» auraient péri sous le feu de l’armée azerbaïdjanaise depuis le début des affrontements dimanche 27 septembre dans le Haut-Karabakh, une région indépendantiste de l’Azerbaïdjan, peuplée à majorité d’Arméniens, et soutenue par l’Arménie. Une armée azerbaïdjanaise qui aurait à son tour subi de lourdes pertes par les forces arméniennes, qui prétendent avoir éliminé, dans le même laps de temps, plus de 200 soldats de Bakou. Continue reading

Trends and Factors Contributing to the July Border Clashes Between Azerbaijan and Armenia

Azerbaijani soldiers. July 18, 2020. Photo: AFP Forum via Anadolu Agency/Resul Rehimov

Azerbaijani soldiers. July 18, 2020. Photo: AFP Forum via Anadolu Agency/Resul Rehimov

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 105

On July 12, the Azerbaijani border region of Tovuz and the Tavush region on the Armenian side became the new epicenter of clashes between the armed forces of the two states, with the involvement of heavy artillery and unmanned aerial drones (BBC News–Azerbaijani service, July 12). The intensive exchanges of fire resulted in the deaths of over a dozen military personnel and the destruction of local infrastructure on both sides. On July 14, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense notably confirmed the deaths of Major General Polad Hashimov and Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev as a result of artillery shelling by Armenian military units (APA, July 14). Such high-level losses provoked unprecedented and spontaneous mass protests in Baku, with approximately 30,000 people flooding Azadlig (Freedom) Square and the parliament building with demands on the authorities to take revenge on Armenia and immediately begin military mobilization (Anadolu Agency, July 15). This unsanctioned mass rally was the largest in many years and succeeded in pushing the government to take a number of measures, including kicking off a voluntary recruitment process (Oxu.az, July 16). Continue reading

India Wins Defense Deal with Armenia

Weapon Locating Radar (Swathi) passes through the Rajpath, on the occasion of the 68th Republic Day Parade 2017, in New Delhi on January 26, 2017 (Source: PIB)

Weapon Locating Radar (Swathi) passes through the Rajpath, on the occasion of the 68th Republic Day Parade 2017, in New Delhi on January 26, 2017 (Source: PIB)

On March 1, 2020, India outperformed Russia and Poland in a US$ 40 million defense deal with Armenia to supply it with four domestically made SWATHI counter-battery radars. The system is developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). It provides accurate information on enemy artillery firing positions weapons up to 75 kilometers away. The decision came amid India’s growing efforts to boost its national “Make in India” brand in the defense industry sector, which could make new inroads into European, Middle Eastern and Asian defense markets. However, the new Indian – Armenian defense deal could undermine Delhi’s relations with Russia on the one hand, and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan on the other.

BACKGROUND: In recent years, Indian-Armenian bilateral cooperation saw rapid growth, culminating with a high-level Indian delegation visiting Yerevan in 2017, led by then Vice-President Hamid Ansari. For Armenia, close relations with India are vitally important as the latter provides a counter balance to the rival strategic axis between Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Turkey. After the 2016 four-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in some Azerbaijani territorial gains, Armenia has sought to boost its military capabilities. Continue reading

US-Iran escalation and its implications for the South Caucasus

Photo by Azerbaijani Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Photo by Azerbaijani Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Over the past several weeks geopolitical experts have been talking a lot about what the surprise U.S. drone attack on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force, on Jan. 3 means for the Middle East and relations between the major powers. What has received considerably less attention, however, is what Soleimani’s killing means for the South Caucasus, a region whose small size belies its strategic importance.

Located at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the South Caucasus is a major energy supplier and an increasingly important arena for competition between regional powers, like Turkey and Iran, and great powers, like the U.S. and Russia.

Washington believed that taking out Soleimani would restore the leverage it had lost to Iran and Russia’s growing role in the region. Although U.S. sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, sparking anti-government demonstrations, Russia, China, much of Europe, and even many American political leaders have railed against the Soleimani strike. Continue reading

The Georgian–Azerbaijani Monastery Dispute and Implications for the South Caucasus Region

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili visits the Davit Gareja monastery on the border with Azerbaijan (President.gov.ge)

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili visits the Davit Gareja monastery on the border with Azerbaijan (President.gov.ge)

Policy Memo: 612

(PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo) Often forgotten among the many post-Soviet border disputes in the Caucasus is one pitting two strategic partners against each other, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The two states have enjoyed a bilateral partnership since the beginning of the 2000s that has shaped the geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus region. Being at the East-West crossroads, the Baku–Tbilisi axis is of geostrategic importance not only for regional countries but also for the West, Central Asia, and now China. Nevertheless, the pair recently witnessed an escalation of border disputes and tensions over the David Gareja (Keshikchidagh) monastery complex that sprawls between Azerbaijan’s Agstafa district and Georgia’s Sagarejo district.

Earlier this year, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili discussed the problem with her Baku counterpart and later paid a visit to the complex. While the top leadership on both sides expressed restraint, there was strong clamoring in Georgia about the negative consequences of her approach—often in reference to the “Russian factor.” Indeed, Russia has increased its soft power in Azerbaijan since 2008 and Russian-Georgian tensions have risen, leading analysts to determine that only Moscow principally benefits from any diplomatic discord between Baku and Tbilisi. Friction between the two would cause immense damage to regional development, namely energy and transport projects. Fortunately, taking into account their long-term decent relationship, the two states resumed their joint commission on the border demarcation process, which requires an open, comprehensive, and mutually beneficial action plan. Local provocateurs (Georgian and Azerbaijani) should be impeded and unnecessary geopolitical interference from the Kremlin must be sidestepped in order for the inherently pragmatic—albeit stalled—settlement process to prevail. Continue reading

Lavrov’s Gulf trip highlights Russia’s growing regional role

Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a four-day trip to the Gulf in early March, stopping in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a broader effort to boost Moscow’s ties with the region. Although the Gulf monarchies are traditionally considered some of the U.S’s closest allies, relations between Russia and the Gulf have improved in recent years and there is potential for further cooperation going forward.

Russia’s interests in the Gulf are multifaceted, but key areas include energy, military affairs (especially arms sales), and investment, as well as regional conflicts, most prominently Syria. During his official meetings, Foreign Minister Lavrov focused on economic cooperation, in particular Gulf investment in Russia, and negotiations over further coordination on Syria. Russian-Gulf commercial ties are especially relevant at the moment as Moscow is set to host several events next month, including the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Arabia-EXPO 2019, and a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council. Part of Lavrov’s mission was to invite the Gulf countries to attend, and he no doubts made a major effort to persuade them to send high-level delegations. As yet, however, the Gulf monarchies have not shown a willingness to take part. Continue reading

Will the Syrian Kurds strike a deal with Moscow?

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

President Donald Trump’s announcement at the end of 2018 that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria came as a surprise to all parties involved, sparking particular concern among America’s Syrian Kurdish allies. The move followed President Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS after a four-year military campaign fighting alongside Syrian Kurdish forces. This sudden and unexpected decision has been widely criticized not only by allies but also those inside the White House, with many analysts arguing that the U.S. withdrawal will expose the Syrian Kurds to an attack by Turkey.

The news caught the Pentagon and local Syrian allies off-guard and ultimately led to the resignation of several senior U.S. officials, including Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS. According to McGurk’s resignation letter, the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops would be dangerous and lead to a risk of resurgence among the remnants of ISIS in Syria. Continue reading

John Bolton’s Caucasus Trip: Growing US Influence in Region?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 153

United States National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Azerbaijan on October 24, and held meetings with President Ilham Aliyev and other high-level state officials. Bolton appeared in Baku immediately following his visit to Moscow (Trend.az, October 24). The US National Security Advisor’s Russian agenda and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin suggested that Washington will not be rekindling relations with Moscow under the current circumstances.

Bolton’s ensuing trip to the South Caucasus included stops not only in Azerbaijan but also Armenia and Georgia. As the highest US official from the Donald Trump administration to come to the region since Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to Tbilisi last year (Whitehouse.gov, August 1, 2017), Bolton’s three-country tour raised questions of whether the White House is interested in more seriously reengaging the region, which had been neglected under the previous US administration. During Barrack Obama’s presidency, US influence in the South Caucasus had declined as the White House paid more attention to bilateral relations with Russia. Continue reading