BAKU: Russia, Armenia take major steps to enhance military, deterrence potential vis-à-vis Baku

Trend, Azerbaijan
May 18 2017

Russia, Armenia take major steps to enhance military, deterrence
potential vis-à-vis Baku

18 May 2017 16:11 (UTC+04:00)
Baku, Azerbaijan, May 18

By Elmira Tariverdiyeva – Trend:

Since the occurrence of large scale fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh
in April 2016, resulting in some Azerbaijani gains, there has been a
widespread fear that this crisis could easily escalate out of control
drawing in not only the two belligerents but also Russia, wrote
Stephen Blank, senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council,
in his article published by the Central Asia – Caucasus Analyst

“Armenia’s response to the visible enhancement of Azerbaijan’s
military capability has marked a qualitative escalation of the crisis’
military potential. Moreover, it has further unmasked the Russian
policy of abetting the crisis rather than trying to resolve it, even
though Moscow professes to be against renewed hostilities and to want
a solution,” noted the author.

According to Blank, last year, Russia and Armenia have taken major
steps to enhance the latter’s military and thus deterrence potential
vis-à-vis Baku.

“These actions include the establishment of a joint Russo-Armenian air
defense for the Caucasus and joint forces to “ensure security in the
Caucasus region of collective security”; ongoing modernization of
Russian bases in Armenia; Armenian lobbying to increase the
effectiveness of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO); a
new agreement on new weapons transfers to Armenia and the development
of overall military-technical cooperation; and most significantly the
transfer to Armenia of the Iskander-M missile – a dual-use missile
that comes in both cruise and ballistic missile variants,” says the

“To add fuel to this fire, Armenian officials claim that they received
the Iskander from Russia at subsidized prices and that it is entirely
under Armenian control. Whether or not this is truly the case – it is
admittedly a rather inconceivable proposition that Russia would be
unable to assert control of the system – this marks the first time
Moscow has ever transferred an Iskander missile abroad and therefore
another reckless step taken by Moscow in the military sphere,” said
Blank in his article. “Although Moscow undoubtedly sought to upgrade
Armenia’s deterrence capability, the terms under which Armenia claims
to have received the Iskander and President Sargsyan’s stated
readiness to use it have not calmed things down but infuriated Baku.”

“Baku has given notice that it is contemplating its own ripostes,
either by acquiring foreign missile defenses for example from Israel
or by developing or acquiring its own offensive missiles to raise the
ante on Armenia. Thus a new escalatory spiral and arms race appears to
be taking place over Nagorno-Karabakh,” noted the author.

Beyond strengthening Armenia’s deterrence capability and its own
standing in Yerevan’s eyes, Moscow has also strengthened its position
in Armenia and throughout the Caucasus by deploying the Iskander along
with troops and other arms systems to its base in Gyumri, Armenia,
says the article.

“It has clearly intervened on behalf of Yerevan and Foreign Minister
Lavrov subsequently announced that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is not
merely an Azerbaijani or Armenian one, meaning that Russia will weigh
in on its resolution,” added Blank.

According to Blank, Moscow has qualitatively escalated the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“Armenia’s claim to have both unlimited control and command of the
system and willingness to use it have already further heightened the
tension in the Caucasus, underscoring the recklessness of transferring
such systems even if legal loopholes exist for doing so. Of course,
the transfer to Armenia also shows that Moscow is not a neutral
arbiter between Baku and Yerevan, quite the opposite,” he said.

Blank said Moscow has once again demonstrated a lack of good judgment,
which is a fundamental legitimating factor in its claims to dominate
the former Soviet space.

These developments raise several questions, said the author.

“Beyond the Caucasus, we now must reckon with the possibility of
Moscow selling versions of the Iskander missile to other partners and
customers, including China and Iran,” noted Blank.

Moreover, beyond threatening Azerbaijan, Russia’s deployments
throughout the Caucasus also threaten the Middle East, including
Turkey, says the article, they isolate both the Caucasus and the
larger Black Sea Basin, as well as parts of the Middle East from NATO
military power.

According to Blank, these issues furnish ample incentive, if not
justification, for US and Western involvement in formulating and
implementing a viable resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The widespread belief that this conflict will not remain frozen and
that the consequences of that “unfreezing” will be catastrophic, not
only for Armenia and Azerbaijan, appears to have even greater validity
due to the Russo-Armenian escalation, noted the author.

In other words, what happens in the Caucasus does not stay in the
Caucasus, he added.