BAKU: Azerbaijan better prepared for Karabakh war than in 1993 – TV

Azerbaijan better prepared for Karabakh war than in 1993 – TV

ANS TV, Baku
4 Apr 04

The Azerbaijani army, economy and public are now better prepared for
war than they were back in 1993, the commercial Azerbaijani ANS TV has
said in a wide-ranging analysis of a possible resumption of military
hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagornyy
Karabakh Republic. This time, there may also be “less US pressure” on
Azerbaijan, the TV said. It added that the war might damage
Azerbaijan’s economic development and delay the construction of an oil
pipeline to link Baku with the Turkish port of Ceyhan via Tbilisi. The
following is the text of a report by Azerbaijani TV station ANS on 4
April; subheadings inserted editorially:

[Presenter over archive footage] That the economic situation at this
juncture, with the Turkish-Armenian border closed, favours Azerbaijan
is beyond any doubts. The political and military situation is
gradually putting Azerbaijan at an advantage as well provided,
naturally, that Ankara’s position remains unchanged.

The Armenian leadership sees the gap between the present regional
situation and Armenia’s ambitions. The Armenian leaders are trying to
change the objective situation by their subjective views. This
contradiction is the reason behind Armenia’s attempts to use the same
political leverages and ideological machinery in 2004 as in
1990-93. However, this time the war may not benefit Armenia.

Armenian government’s interest in the conflict

The threat of war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is still there. The
resumption of military operations, which were stopped in 1994, seems
possible for several political reasons. First of all, the Armenian
government, and specifically President Robert Kocharyan, intend to
resolve the domestic tension, created by the democratic and economic
crisis, by bringing to the foreground the Nagornyy Karabakh
conflict. Because it is possible to re-unite the Armenian public,
divided over the socioeconomic crisis and election problems, by
exploiting the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict and threats from Azerbaijan
and Turkey. It is for this reason that Kocharyan has recently
attempted to revive the old anti-Azerbaijani slogans which were
popular in Armenia between 1989 and 1993 and thus push to the
background social and economic problems.

However, Armenia and Kocharyan will face many risks should they
restart the Karabakh war. The geopolitical situation in the region is
drastically different from the one in 1993. Most importantly, the
Azerbaijani military is not as incompetent and the Azerbaijani public
is not as politically inexperienced as they were at that time. The
socioeconomic situation in Azerbaijan is much better than it is in
Armenia, reducing thus the resistance of Armenian society in case of a
confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Economic downturn,
failure of the policy to grab Nagornyy Karabakh from Azerbaijan and
changes in regional geopolitics have ideologically eroded the Armenian
public. Therefore, the changes in the balance of power, both at home
and abroad, may result in shortening Kocharyan’s rule.

Pipeline opponents

Finally, a second Nagornyy Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan
may be of interest to those forces which oppose the construction of
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. When credits were sought to build
the pipeline, it was plain to see how numerous and strong are the
opponents of the Baku-Ceyhan project.

US position changes

Azerbaijan, in turn, may be interested in carrying out a fast and
successful military operation in Nagornyy Karabakh. Azerbaijan has
greatly deepened its military cooperation with the USA and in the wake
of his latest visit to Washington, Azerbaijani Defence Minister Safar
Abiyev said that war remains a possibility. This means that this time
there may be less US pressure on Azerbaijan if the war in Karabakh is
resumed, and America will not pass again, as it did in 1992, something
like the Section 907 [to the Freedom Support Act banning direct US aid
to the Azerbaijani government, now temporarily suspended]. The reason
is that taking any steps against the Azerbaijani government may affect
the counterterrorism coalition’s operations in Afghanistan and
Iraq. On the other hand, when US Assistant Secretary of State for
European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones was asked in Congress
why the USA plans to allocate 8m dollars to Azerbaijan and only 2m
dollars to Armenia in military aid, thus breaking the parity between
the sides, she said that this will not damage the balance of powers in
the region. She added that the USA had taken no commitment to preserve
such a parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Looked at from this
perspective, Russia’s attitude to Azerbaijan is also dramatically
different from what it used to be in 1992-93.

Second, if Azerbaijan shows that it is actually ready to resume the
Karabakh war, the plans to re-open the Turkish-Armenian border may be
scrapped. Baku is certainly interested in that. Third, the remaining
threat of war prevents the inflow of investment in Armenia and
Nagornyy Karabakh and this is an important plank of Azerbaijan’s
strategy to deal with the conflict.

War’s economic impact on Azerbaijan

Yet, some aspects of the resumed war represent drawbacks for
Azerbaijan. They are only related to the economic development and
delay in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. New
military operations may stop investments in the Azerbaijani economy
and slow down the successful economic development. On the other hand,
conflict may create serious problems for the pipeline. Taking into
consideration all these issues, if faced with the necessity of war,
Azerbaijan may only decide to go to war if it can wage a lightning,
fast and completely successful military operation.