There is an unfinished business in the Caucasus for the Azerbaijanis. The grand expansion and conquest of the ancient Karabakh lands up to the state border of Armenia is not done as yet. There is however a brick wall that they have to come up against: the Russian peacekeeping mission. If the Azerbaijanis are good in one thing that is undoubtedly being the best geopolitical opportunists of all time. There was a reported buildup and an attempted incursion into Artsakh by the Azerbaijani state forces a couple of days back. What are they trying to achieve?
Is this a one-time random or accidental incident? Or is it a timely well-calculated beginning of a series of events to follow. Let’s do the math.
In the international arena, a tectonic plate shifting is happening. It is almost the moment for a collision of the continents. The war in Ukraine is heating up, with Russian forces decimating the Ukrainian army in the Don basin. Albanians in the breakaway Kosovo province are openly upping the ante against Serbs with a possible NATO intervention on the horizon. Nancy Pelosi’s much hyped and provocative state visit to Taipei is dominating the global news. The world is in utter chaos and the focus of the attention of the international community keeps changing from one theater of geopolitics to another. The focus is in disarray. So, who will have time for a small incursion by the Azerrbajani forces into Artsakh?
The energy crisis that is devastating the European continent has made gas-rich countries more than ever important partners. Europe is not held hostage by the barrel but by pipelines. Europeans are pushed against the wall and they are desperate to find gas for their industries and the general population. Winter is coming and the empty gas storage facilities in Europe are worse than a nightmare. Algeria’s gas supply will be reduced with pre-planned maintenance of the pipeline. Neither Qatar nor Iran could accommodate the growing desperate demands. That makes the Gas King of the Caucasus Ilham Aliyev – the president of Azerbaijan, an untouchable, strategically important and valuable partner. No one in the right mind would want to antagonize Azerbaijan or to be in their bad books. That gives Azerbaijan a leverage way above its weight class.
Russians do not have the appetite for another hot front. It is unwise and could jeopardize their grand strategy for the Ukrainian and European theater. Of course, that does not give another state actor the right to harm the lives of the Russian servicemen nor their assets. More importantly, Russias will not want to undermine their strategic position. However, they could probably stomach a little incursion into non-Russian lands. In a worse-case scenario, they will make a strong statement and save face.
The sultan of our century, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, is in a unique position with unbelievable opportunities in hand. As a wise statesman or the opportunist that he has always been, he did not board the anti-Russia sanctions ship. He is positioned in a way to help the sanctioned Russian and Iranian economies to circumvent the Western sanctions. The grain deal he helped broker between the Russians and Ukrainians is evidence for the leverage he obtained. His indispensability gives him a free rein in matters related to Azerbaijani-Armenian issues. In turn, this works as a life insurance for President Aliyev.
The first phase of this situation is the usual misinformation by Turkish-led media outlets reporting unprovoked attacks on the state border of Azerbaijan. This gets amplified across social media platforms, making it appear as if Azerbaijan is in fact the victim and the Armenians are the aggressor. This method has been used time again with varied success. Then the world witnessed a military buildup of the Azerbaijani with trucks painted with a letter A. This would certainly bring the pre-war memory of Russian military columns painted with mystery signs closer to Ukraine.
Will an all-out eruption of hostilities take place? Well, not at this stage. This is a probing of the reactions of all the stakeholders, calculating the risks, assessing the circumstances. These kinds of events could take place across Karabakh for the next foreseeable future until Azerbaijan sees the most opportune time to finish the business it started. Will the Russian strategy of making the Karabakh issue a deep frozen conflict until the time is ripe be tested sooner than later? This is only the first phase of a long game.