Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian signed a new decree dismissing Vaghinak Sargsyan from position of commander of National Security Service border troops.
The decree was signed at the proposal of Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian signed a new decree dismissing Vaghinak Sargsyan from position of commander of National Security Service border troops.
The decree was signed at the proposal of Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed on to a U.S. State Department-brokered humanitarian ceasefire that took effect at 8 a.m. local time this Monday.
In theory, the ceasefire should bring a temporary halt to nearly a month of fighting over control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region that Russian President Putin claims has already cost over 5,000 lives.
An hour later, Armenia reported shelling by Azerbaijani forces. There have since been more reports on major fighting in multiple sectors and military aviation activity near the Armenia/Azerbaijan border.
Azerbaijan’s Pres. Ilham Aliyev also gave a speech today objecting to international interference in the conflict, asserting that “in the current situation, we see there is a military solution.” He also warned in the speech that Turkish F-16 fighters based in Azerbaijan would be used to retaliate in the event of foreign intervention, likely referring to Russia in particular.
Given that two prior ceasefires almost immediately fell apart, the odds of the current one lasting are tenuous unless the belligerents are genuinely willing to make a serious and sustained diplomatic effort. A meeting involving the Minsk Group (France, Russia and the United States) is set to convene on Thursday.
Without diplomatic progress, the ceasefire may merely give both sides a brief breather as they prepare for an even more intense round of fighting focusing on the so-called Lachin Corridor.
That’s because the corridor contains the only major highway connecting the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also called Artsakh) to the country of Armenia.
The Lachin corridor refers to the loan road running through Lachin that connects Stepanakert, … [+]
Author, using Google Maps Imagery
After capturing most of the southern border with Iran, on October 22, Azerbaijani forces appeared to turn northwest. A cellphone video posted on the internet showed an Azerbaijani mechanized column temporarily delayed by a vehicle immobilized by a mine.
If Lachin were seized by Azerbaijani forces, not only would it cut of the NKR capital of Stepanakert from receiving fuel, ammunitions and reinforcements; it would also cut off the only the route by which refugees in Nagorno-Karabakh could flee to Armenia.
Last Saturday, Armenian forces apparently mounted a counterattack against the forward Azerbaijani elements. An NKR official claimed in a recorded briefing that it had repelled these forces southward down the highway.
Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have frequently released contradictory claims as to territorial control. But a conservative interpretation suggest that the advance in this sector was at least temporarily stalled short of the coveted corridor.
Armenian forces also began a counter-offensive near the far southwestern border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Possibly staged from Armenian territory, the offensive may be aimed at diverting pressure away from Lachin. An Armenian video showing seven captured Azerbaijani BTR-70 armored personnel carriers has been geolocated to that sector.
The Pass Running Through Decades of War
Lachin, which means “hawk” in Azerbaijani, is itself is emblematic of the contradictions that have made the war so bitter. It is one of seven rayons (districts) outside of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Artsakh, which are a particular source of grievance to Azerbaijanis.
A truck drives on the so-called Lanchin corridor in 2007 in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan. The Lachin … [+]
Soviet-era survey show that Armenians were generally the majority population of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region. But surveys also showed the Lachin rayon, situated in between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Soviet republic of Armenia, as being 80% to 94% Azerbaijani.
Nonetheless, when Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fought to secede from Azerbaijan in 1992, they seized Lachin to create a land corridor between Armenia and the NKR. Most of Lachin’s Azerbaijani population were forced to flee, becoming refugees in their own country.
Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh, Lachin City was captured by Armenian military units. Photo ITAR-TASS / … [+]
TASS via Getty Images
The NKR renamed Lachin town by the Armenian name of Berdzor. Later, as civil war ravaged Syria, Syrian Armenians fled to Armenia and were resettled in this sector of the NKR.
Azerbaijan. Lachin is captured by Armenian military units. Photo ITAR-TASS / Andrei Solovyov; … [+]
TASS via Getty Images
The NKR’s occupation of Lachin was premised on strategic reasons: if Azerbaijani forces succeed in closing the corridor, they could completely isolate the NKR from external support. If the logistical link is severed, NKR forces would be cut off from the flow of fuel, munitions and reinforcements.
The town of Lachin/Berdzor in 2010 and the critical road running through it.
User Lyonking, released for public use under CC3.0 BY-SA license.
Even seizing terrain affording a good view of the road could render daytime transit on it impossible as convoys would be exposed to observed indirect fire from mortars and artillery, or even direct-fire from armored vehicles and anti-tank guided missiles. Even night travel would be perilous due to the prevalence of infrared sensors on armored vehicles and drones.
With supply lines severed, civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh could be cut off from food, running water and heat during the forthcoming Caucus winter. Furthermore, they may be denied a route by which to flee to Armenia. The result could be a humanitarian disaster in which casualties of trapped civilians spike due to lack of food and medical supplies, exposure to cold, and non-stop artillery bombardment.
A medical worker talks to a sick woman in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, the separatist region of … [+]
The extent of Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s objectives in the current conflict remain unclear. If he hopes to recapture all or most of Nagorno-Karabakh, he might see isolating it to be a means to weaken its heavily fortified defenders. However, the humanitarian disaster that could ensue would cause international pressure to mount on Baku, and increase pressure on Russia to intervene.
Azerbaijan might instead see capture of the highway as a way to gain leverage when seeking to secure less absolute objectives, notably regaining control of the Azerbaijani rayons outside of Nagorno-Karabakh held by Armenian forces.
GORIS, ARMENIA – OCTOBER 24: Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh board a coach as they flee to safety in … [+]
However, Lachin’s pivotal geographic position as one of those rayons underscores why Armenians fear compromise could render Nagorno-Karabakh difficult to defend in future conflicts.
For example, Aliyev has identified regaining control of the NKR-controlled town of Shusha/Shushi as a priority. Formerly a mixed-ethnicity community of cultural and religious importance to both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, its Armenian population was driven out in a pogrom in 1920; Azerbaijanis were forced out in May 1992. That town is not only situated a short distance away from the capital of Stepanakert, but lies in between it and Armenia.
View from a broken window of a building near the Shushi cathedral, Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, after … [+]
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Border War Risks
Prior to the ceasefire, Armenian troops appear to have been committed to containing the Azerbaijani advance towards Lachin. Because the Azerbaijani advance units approaching Lachin themselves likely depended on narrow, extended lines of communication, they too may have been vulnerable to having their supply lines cutoff.
Observers have also noticed a trend in recent combat footage suggesting that Armenian troops may have fallen back from fortifications on relatively open ground to forested positions.
Not only would forested terrain inhibit observation and attack from drones, but the short lines of sight on the ground limit their exposure to observed artillery fire and make it easier to ambush enemy forces piecemeal.
However, forces confined to the woods may be less effective in interdicting the movement of Azerbaijani forces beyond, which could pose problems when it comes to defending Lachin.
Furthermore, a battle for Lachin would intrinsically take place next to the border with Armenia and Armenian town of Goris. And that carries significant risks for both sides.
Both Yerevan and Baku lean on Artsakh’s status as a de facto secessionist republic in what is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory to manage escalation risks. Officially, Armenia is not at war with Azerbaijan and vice versa, and the fighting is ostensibly between Azerbaijan and the NKR.
This dubious technicality provides a legal rationale for both sides to avoid waging more unrestricted warfare. While some cross-border attacks appear to have been mounted, they have been limited in scale and cloaked in ambiguity.
For example, there appear to have been some limited missile and/or drone attacks on targets in Armenia which Azerbaijan has not taken credit for. Armenian troops have launched Scud and Tochka ballistic missiles at Azerbaijani cities—but truthfully or not, Yerevan denies they were fired from inside the country of Armenia.
One risk for Baku is that an attack on target in Armenia could inadvertently strike, or come close to hitting, Russian military units in Armenia. That could compel Moscow to intervene in the war. If inclined, Putin might also position Russian units in the country to shield Armenian formations. Indeed, Russian formations reportedly have been stationed directly adjacent to Lachin.
In an intense fight for Lachin, Armenian commanders may be tempted to provide artillery support from across the border. But doing so too extensively might incite Azerbaijani escalation, or upset Moscow if it feels that Yerevan is trying to exploit its alliance.
Ultimately, the Lachin corridor seems destined to become a major flashpoint unless diplomatic efforts can capitalize on the ceasefire to explore a new status quo for the region. That might require finding ways to decouple the role that military force wielded by both sides has historically played in determining which ethnicity is permitted to dwell within a community, and which are compelled to flee.
Updated 10:45 a.m. EST with details on the fraying of the ceasefire, new comments made by Pres. Ilham Aliyev, and mention of Russian deployment near Lachin.
Russia has deployed an electronic jamming system in Armenia that has downed at least nine Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 combat drones used by Azerbaijan in fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Asia Times reported on Monday, citing Russian news reports.
The “Krasukha” is a Russian-made broadband multifunctional jamming system, dubbed “Belladonna” in English, which Russia is operating out of its military base in Gyumri, Armenia, the Hong Kong-based news website said. The base is near the Turkish border and about 487 kilometres from the nearest major Azeri base in Ganja, it said.
The system was designed primarily to protect areas in and around Russia’s military bases where its powerful transmitter can blank out airborne radars, although it has also been found useful in counteracting armed drones, the Asia Times said.
The Krakushka was used successfully in defending Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria from swarming drones, it said. Those drones, also known as ‘loitering munitions’ or ‘suicide drones’, are designed to overwhelm air defence systems and crash into a target, setting off armed explosives in the process.
Russian news media said that at least nine Bayraktar drones were shot down on or around Oct. 19, according to the Asia Times. It said neither the Russian, Azeri nor Turkish governments have made a statement on the issue.
Turkey has heavily advertised the success of the Bayraktar in various theatres of conflict: in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, where the country is conducting military operations fighting Kurdish armed groups; in Libya, pushing back a 14-month rebel offensive to take the capital Tripoli; and in clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, where they are used by the Azeri armed forces.
The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted on Sept. 27 and has since reportedly killed hundreds. It marked the biggest escalation of a decades-old dispute over the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
The violence – involving heavy artillery, rockets and drones – has continued to rage despite Russia’s attempts to broker a lasting truce.
Russia is the dominant player in the Caucasus region and maintains a security pact with Armenia, a close ally. The agreement does not however cover Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow has also cultivated warmer relations with Azerbaijan in recent years. It sells weapons to both sides.
Around 75 people gathered in Midtown Anchorage Saturday, to speak out about violence against Armenians as tensions escalate in a longstanding conflict with Azerbaijan.
Fighting is ongoing in a conflict over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Rita Osipyan of Wasilla was among those speaking out in Anchorage.
“We’re here to have a peaceful protest against the silence that’s been going on in this country and worldwide because of non-recognition of this Armenian territory we call Artsakh,” said Osipyan.
Roughly 75 people marched at an October 17 rally in Anchorage opposing the Azerbaijani violence against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, a de facto independent state between Azerbaijan and Armenia. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)
The rally was organized by Armenians of Alaska. The organization wants to see the United States cut all military aid to Azerbaijan and Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan. They also want to see the U.S. place political and economic sanctions on the two countries.
Yeva Sharp lived in Armenia until a few years ago, and says she’s worried about her friends and family back home.
“I left Armenia five years ago, we came to U.S. and I want to make sure my family, my bother’s family, my friends and other family members, they live and they sleep peacefully,” said Sharp.
Conflict in the region goes back decades, but recent clashes began at the end of September.
Jeff Chen contributed to this story.
By Stefan J. Bos
New clashes were reported between Azerbaijan and Armenia just hours after the US President had proudly announced on social networking site Twitter that his team managed to negotiate a ceasefire between the warring Caucasus nations.
The US-brokered truce was a third attempt to establish a lasting ceasefire in the flare-up of a decades-old conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Two previous Russia-brokered agreements, including one last weekend, collapsed immediately after taking force, with both sides blaming each other for violations.
The new ceasefire was also challenged quickly by accusations from both sides. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry alleged that Armenian forces fired at Azerbaijani settlements and the positions of the Azerbaijani army.
It said attacks happened "along the entire front, as well as on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border" and involved various small arms, mortars, and howitzers.
Armenian military officials rejected the accusations and accused Azerbaijani forces of shelling the northeastern area of Nagorno-Karabakh and other regions.
Local authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh also charged that Azerbaijan targeted the town of Martuni with military aviation. Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry denied it violated the ceasefire agreement.
Amongst the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, there are Christian and Catholic communities including one that worships in the 19th-century Armenian Apostolic cathedral in the town of Shusha.
The Holy Saviour Cathedral, also known as Ghazanchetsots, was heavily damaged in recent shelling, allegedly by Azerbaijan's forces. But priests there can still be seen ringing the bells and praying for the victims and for peace inside the damaged church.
"It doesn't matter if these prayers come from basements, houses, or churches – all prayers reach God," said Armenian priest Andreas Tavadyan. "To be honest, there are far more dangerous places in Artsakh [the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh]. There is a front line which is really dangerous. But this is our front line; we have to fight the evil, we pray. It's our [spiritual] battlefield."
He added: "I believe this danger is not that important for us. No matter if we see that the cathedral is damaged, we know God is in all of our prayers. God will save us."
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim nation, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia, which is primarily Christian, since a war there ended in 1994.
The latest fighting that began on September 27 has involved heavy artillery, rockets, and drones. The violence has officially killed more than 1,000 people in the largest escalation of hostilities over the separatist region in more than a quarter-century.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that Moscow's information suggests the death toll from the fighting was nearing 5,000, significantly higher than what both sides report.
The Armenian side has been doing its best to ensure the US-brokered ceasefire is maintained, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said live on Fcebook.
“The Defense Army has shown restraint since morning, but at this moment we can state that the ceasefire has failed to be observed for a third time,” Pashinyan said.
“I talked to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night and said that I was sure the ceasefire would be violated. I asked Secretary if the ceasefire is not respected, how are we going to find out which side violated it? Secondly, I asked what would be the consequences for the party breaching the ceasefire,” Pashinyan said.
He hopes official Washington will answer the questions today.
The Prime Minister stressed that the Presidents of Russia, United States and France are sincere in their efforts to help establish ceasefire. He added that the issue is especially important for the US, which is facing presidential elections in a week.
The Prime Minister said that while the Armenian side has been very flexible in this period, Azerbaijan has not shown any willingness to accept anything. “What Azerbaijan wants is capitulation of Nagorno Karabakh at least.”
The Prime Minister stressed that while the Armenian nation is ready for mutual concessions, even painful ones, Armenian people are in no event ready for capitulation.
“Therefore, the Armenian nation should find resources to struggle and protect its interests,” the Prime Minister stated.
YEREVAN, October 26. /TASS/. Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan has highly estimated Russia’s role in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the press service of the Armenian Security Council said on Monday after his telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev.
"During the conversation with Patrushev, Grigoryan touched on the situation at Artsakh’s (the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic – TASS) border with Azerbaijan stressing that that the war had been unleashed by Azerbaijan and pointing to Turkey’s destabilizing interference. He also highly estimated Russia’s role in the conflict settlement. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev stressed the necessity of peaceful and diplomatic settlement of the conflict," it said.
Armenia’s defense ministry reported on Monday morning that Baku had violated the ceasefire, opening artillery fire at the positions of the Nagorno-Karabakh defense army in the northeastern section of the contact line.
On Sunday evening, Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the United States’ mediation, agreed another humanitarian ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone that entered into force from 07:00 Moscow time on October 26.
Renewed clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted on September 27, with intense battles raging in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The area experienced flare-ups of violence in the summer of 2014, in April 2016 and this past July. Azerbaijan and Armenia have imposed martial law and launched mobilization efforts. Both parties to the conflict have reported casualties, among them civilians. Fighting continues in the region despite the previous ceasefire agreements.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the highland region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that had been part of Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union break-up, but primarily populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out in February 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1992-1994, tensions boiled over and exploded into large-scale military action for control over the enclave and seven adjacent territories after Azerbaijan lost control of them. Talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement have been ongoing since 1992 under the OSCE Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs – Russia, France and the United States.
Asia Times By Stephen Bryen Moscow has unleashed its 'Belladonna' drone killer system in Armenia to counter Azerbaijan's use of Turkish-made Bayraktar armed drones The electronic warfare system is known as “Belladonna”, a poisonous plant that gets its name from Renaissance women who used its extract for tinctures to dilate the pupils of their eyes, ostensibly to make them more attractive. While Belladonna translates to “beautiful woman” in English, in Russian it has a second meaning: it is the name of a Russian electronic jamming system now credited with knocking out at least nine Turkish Bayraktar armed drones used by Azerbaijan to target Armenia. If true – and no one has denied it – the system is now operating around the sensitive Russian military base at Gyumri in Armenia, far from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area. In Russian, Belladonna is known as “Krasukha.” The Krasukha jamming system was rushed to Armenia to counter the successful use of both armed drones such as the Bayraktar and suicide drones like the Israel-made loitering munition known as Harop. The Turks have heavily advertised the success of Bayraktar in three theaters – Syria, Libya and now in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey and Azerbaijan have released numerous “kill videos” of the drone blowing up tanks, armored vehicles and trucks – and killing many soldiers in the process. Bayraktar is a fairly conventional armed drone that is navigated to the target area using GPS. The drone’s Wescam MX-15D multispectral camera system is made in Canada while its BRP-Rotax engine that generates about 100 horse-power is produced in Austria. Canada has halted the sale of the Wescam camera system to Turkey because of its use on Bayraktar drones in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Canada has been silent about Rotax engine exports, although the Austrian company is owned by Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products. No doubt there are other Bayraktar parts that are made in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. [Photo:An official walks among objects which Armenia presented as captured and downed Azeri drones during recent armed clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, in Yerevan, July 21, 2020. Photo: AFP/Karen Minasyan] The Krasukha is a broadband multifunctional jamming station manufactured by KRET (“Concern Radio Electronic Technologies”), part of the Rostec Group. Since 2014, the company has been under US sanctions for its activities in Ukraine and in Crimea. KRET consists of more than 70 member companies in electronics spread out across Russia while KRET itself acts as a manufacturing group holding company with about 50,000 employees. Krakushka was designed primarily to protect areas in and around Russia’s military bases where its powerful transmitter can blank out airborne radars. The Russians, however, have also found Krakuska useful in counteracting armed drones. Krakushka was used successfully in defending the Hmeymim Air Base in Syria that was attacked by armed, if not primitive, swarming drones. An earlier strike by such drones had caused significant damage at the base, destroying some aircraft, and alarmed Russia’s military about a significant vulnerability at Hmeymim. So much so, in fact, that Russia’s defense ministry brought back some of the drones that crashed and complained bitterly about the spread of drone technology in the Middle East. The Russians might also have complained about China, which supplied the engines, the cameras and the GPS receivers and radios in the drones that were home-built by ISIS and others. But, of course, they did not want to stir trouble with their Beijing ally. For the record, the Russians said the swarming drones caused no damage. The Russian press claims that at least nine Bayraktar drones were shot down on or about October 19. Some photos of the drones that crashed have been released by Armenia and have appeared in the Russian press, principally at Avia.pro. The photos show smashed up Bayraktar drones, but no sign they were hit by ground fire. According to the press reports, the Krakushka jamming system caused the crashes. [Photo: This combination of pictures from October 1, 2020, shows (top) a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone at Gecitkale military airbase near Famagusta and (bottom) an Iranian-made Shahed-129 drone. Photos: AFP/Birol Bebekand Atta Kenare] The version of Krakushka being used in Armenia is the latest model Krakushka-4. The system is truck-mounted, but is used primarily to defend Russian bases. So far as is known, it is not being used by Armenian forces, nor is it being deployed in the Nagorno-Karabakh area. Krakushka jams communications in the same way it blanks out radars; it does not, however, control the jammed drones. It would appear that the Bayraktar drone does not have a “return to home” capability if it loses contact with its base station and if GPS signals are jammed. Most drones with the capability to return to their home systems rely on GPS to do so. The Russians have made clear that the Turkish drones were shot down in the airspace around the Gyumri military base, which in Armenia is near the Turkish border and about 487 kilometers from the nearest major Azerbaijani base at Ganja. The reported communications range of the Turkish drones is 150 kilometers, so the Azerbaijanis and the Turks would have had to move their launch point elsewhere to be within operational range unless the communications range is greater than reported. But the more profound question is why would the Azerbaijanis and the Turks fly armed drones near Russian bases, risking Russia’s entrance into the conflict. Gyumri serves as home to the 102nd Russian military base controlled by Russia’s Southern Military District. Were the drones sent on a one-way mission to fly over the area to put the Russians on notice? It is interesting that in the photos of the crashed drones there is no sign of any air-to-ground missiles such as the MAM-L smart micro munition built by Turkey’s Rokestan. Neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey has made any statement about having nine of their drones knocked out in or around Gyumri. The Russian government likewise has not made an official statement on the downed drones.
Asia Times Baku seems determined to fight through a US-brokered ceasefire as its conflict with Armenia reaches a crucial crossroads By Richard Giragosian YEREVAN — One month into a massive military offensive for Nagorno-Karabakh and hours into a failed US-brokered truce, Azerbaijan is facing a crucial choice that could define the war’s outcome. Azerbaijani troops, having advanced on the open terrain along the Iranian border, have the momentum and appear to be fast approaching the strategic Lachin corridor. But with its troops overstretched and the Karabakh defenders having retreated to the forested high ground, Baku is at a crossroads. The choice is one of following military logic and sound strategy or opting instead for a decision with greater political and diplomatic dividends. But Azerbaijan can’t have it both ways. Military logic suggests a choice of focusing on targeting the Lachin corridor, the critical lifeline between Karabakh and Armenia. Any success in cutting off the Lachin lifeline would be devastating, endangering the resupply and flow of reinforcements to Karabakh and subjecting the Karabakh Armenians to a months-long siege. Yet for an Azerbaijani populace eager for full control of Karabakh itself, that would not be enough, as such a choice would be neither politically palatable nor sufficient in the face of dangerously high expectations for complete victory. And that leaves the second choice: a turn away from the Lachin corridor for an attack on the city of Shushi within Karabakh itself. The capture of the historic cultural center of Shushi, known to Azerbaijanis as Shusha, would offer significant political rewards for the government of President Ilham Aliyev. It would also enhance Baku’s diplomatic bargaining power in any future negotiations. Yet such a move would also incur tremendous military losses and usher in a new, even more intense period of guerrilla warfare as Karabakh forces would hold an advantage in mobility and surprise in an insurgency-style campaign against the Azerbaijani forces. Given the over-extended vulnerability and strained supply routes for the Azerbaijani forces in the field for a month already, that may be an especially risky decision. Already, the Azerbaijani column – its advance driven more by political objectives in Baku than military science – is inherently vulnerable due to stretched supply lines and broken lines of communication. This defiance of Clausewitzian military science may be tempting in order to rush the advance and seize more territory, but Baku is dangerously ignoring essential limitations and necessities. [Photo: A volunteer fighter in a valley outside a village south-east of Stepanakert on October 23, 2020, during the ongoing fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: AFP/Aris Messinis] Winter is coming As some Western military observers have noted to Asia Times, Baku’s “teeth to tail” offensive lacks the staying power of supporting logistics. In addition, the Azerbaijani attacking column is increasingly spread much too thin, with no rear-guard deployment of units or men capable of holding the territorial gains they have achieved in areas south of Karabakh. This weakness will only return as a looming challenge for the Azerbaijani attackers as any counter-attacks by the Karabakh Armenian forces will face little resistance and could offer a much-needed element of tactical surprise and “out-flanking” of exposed Azerbaijani units. Winter is now fast approaching, meaning any further Azerbaijani combat operations will be especially difficult if not impossible in the coming weeks due to low visibility and impassable snow-covered mountainous terrain. A second, often overlooked factor in the strategic context is the operational doctrine and combat experience of the Karabakh Armenian side. In the major past confrontations, most notably the initial Karabakh war of the early 1990s and the five-day war of April 2016, the Karabakh Armenians were initially losing before regrouping and securing victories based on counter-attacks and repelling invasions. This historical pattern offers another advantage for the Karabakh defensive position beyond the already important edge of terrain and topography, suggesting the real burden is on the attackers. Beyond the daily reports of severe losses, high casualties and an increasingly costly tactical campaign to both seize territory and defend positions, it may be too early to discount the Karabakh Armenian defenders. After a weeks-long consistent Azerbaijani advance, a successful and orderly retreat by the Karabakh forces allowed them to reposition and regroup for a secondary defensive line based on the defenders’ advantages of terrain and topography. After suffering serious losses in equipment and nearly 1,000 casualties, their counter-attacks and stubborn resistance have begun to turn the tide of battle. In recent days, the new defensive positions succeeded in halting the Azerbaijani advance to within roughly 25 kilometers of the strategically vital Lachin corridor, the sole highway connection between Karabakh and Armenia. At the same time, the retreat into the mountains and forests have allowed the Karabakh forces to launch small unit attacks against the more exposed Azerbaijani infantry and armored support. And with such forested and mountainous terrain, the Azerbaijani advantage of an air threat from their formidable Turkish and Israeli military drones will be significantly diminished. Yet with President Aliyev having promising full victory, the prospect of stopping short of either Lachin or Shushi could risk political suicide. [Photo: Doctor Lucine Tovmasyan swabs the nose of an elderly woman as she administers a Covid-19 test in the city of Stepanakert on October 23, 2020, during the ongoing fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: AFP/Aris Messinis] Ceasing fire Against this backdrop, even tripartite diplomatic engagement has fallen short. Moscow, in an attempt to demonstrate its diplomatic dominance, sought to force an agreement on the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in a hastily arranged meeting on October 9. Backed by France and the United States, the two other co-chairing nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) so-called Minsk Group, this Russian initiative was initially seen as a potent assertion of diplomatic power. Yet both Azerbaijan and Turkey showed uncharacteristic courage in resisting what they saw as Russian bluff and bluster, and the Azerbaijani offensive continued unencumbered. Such open and outright defiance of Russia stems from an Azerbaijani determination fortified by an unprecedented level of direct Turkish military and diplomatic support. Azerbaijani military gains in territory and tactical success against the Karabakh Armenian defenders have only deepened their reluctance to abide by a ceasefire. In the wake of that rather surprising rebuke, a second diplomatic initiative was launched. This time it was France, in a round of American-style, shuttle diplomacy, with an emissary of French President Emmanuel Macron flying into Yerevan and on to Baku for a series of meetings with each side on October 15-16. Despite accolades for innovation and initiative, that second effort at securing a ceasefire also fell short. Emboldened by territorial gains and encouraged by popular domestic support rare for his authoritarian rule, President Aliyev flouted his newfound victories and echoed Turkish complaints of the OSCE Minsk Group, suggesting a greater role for Ankara in the mediation at the expense of Paris. And in the weakest and least promising round of diplomatic engagement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met separately with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Washington on October 23. [Photo: An image grab taken from a video made available on the official web site of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry on September 28, 2020, Photo: Handout /Azerbaijani Defense Ministry/AFP] This belated American gesture was largely doomed from the start, and was as much a move to show geopolitical relevance as to boost an embattled Trump administration in the waning days of a contested presidential election campaign. While the US did succeed in securing an agreement to abide by yet another cessation of hostilities, it already appeared to break down within an hour of implementation. Conflict mediation is never an easy task, dependent on a degree of sincere political will among the parties to the conflict, and in nearly all cases, a degree of conflict fatigue. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, war-time diplomacy has failed, with dynamic developments on the battlefield now driving the situation. The latest commitment by the warring parties to a diplomatic summit in Geneva, slated for October 29, can be expected to follow and not force operations on the ground.