The defeat of the 44-day war against Azerbaijan and Turkey has brought with it despair and confusion to Armenia, in addition, predictably, to political instability.

The war not only cost the loss of much of Karabakh’s territory, but also cast doubt on the very survival of the Armenian state.

The pandemic had already strained Armenia’s healthcare system, which is now being crushed under the weight of thousands of wounded soldiers needing urgent care.

While the blame game is raging between political groups, the functioning of the government has been paralyzed and the regrouping of the army has been sidelined.

Peace came at a price and the recovery will take a long time.

Political and military developments are not waiting for Armenia to put its house in order. Particularly, two crises are looming in the region and the Karabakh war has already been relegated to the margins: the confrontation between Russia and Turkey seems to have placed both parties on a collision course in the Caucasus and Crimea and the fallout from both scenarios will damage Armenia further.

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As we can see, Armenia is in a hot spot, right in the middle of crosscurrents of conflicts among major power.

Therefore, the peace deal, despite its shortcomings, offered the small consolation for Armenia that the war was behind it. Yet, the prospect of new conflicts can take away even that one bright point.

Returning Karabakh Armenians are greeting the Russian peacekeepers in Stepanakert with flowers and sweets, but that is not enough to conceal Russia’s new intentions in this entire operation.

President Vladimir Putin has become very talkative recently, explaining and analyzing why Russia did not offer more help to Armenia during the war.

In an article by Jack Losh in Foreign Policy, Thomas De Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, is quoted as saying, “Putin’s Russia doesn’t really do humanitarian. Its agenda is to get its footprint back in the Southern Caucasus. Russia is reinserting itself into the region where it’s been in retreat.”

The true nature of Russia’s behavior is disguised under its double game: Putin intended to intimidate the Pashinyan administration, to tame its anti-Russian posture. Indeed, since Pashinyan swept to power in 2018, he himself and his team have conducted themselves in a deliberately provocative manner toward Moscow. Former President (and Putin buddy) Robert Kocharyan ‘s incarceration, the sacking of General Yuri Khachaturov, ignoring Putin’s arrival at Yerevan’s airport, all combined with an arrogant, anti-Russian rhetoric in Armenian media outlets, led to Kremlin’s exasperation. Therefore, Putin retaliated in kind, although Armenia suffered tremendously in the process.

Today, President Putin is cynically defending Pashinyan and saying it is unfair to characterize him as a traitor. A reformed Pashinyan, who got rid of his irresponsible team, is a necessary hostage in Putin’s hand to deliver on the disgraceful document he signed.

Second, the Karabakh war was an excuse for Russia to return in full force to Azerbaijan’s territory. The size and caliber of the Russian forces reminds one of Tigranes the Great’s statement about the Roman army. Indeed, when he noticed Lucullus’ troops advancing towards his positions, the Armenian king exclaimed: “If they are delegates, they are too many and if they are soldiers, they are too few.”

Of course, those “too few” defeated him.

Similarly, the Russian peacekeeping force is almost twice the size it was supposed to be (1900) equipped with the most modern arms, more than necessary to observe the peace. And the rapid deployment of Russian forces was almost a descent into a battlefield. Therefore, Russia is on Azeri soil for the long haul. For now, President Putin is under the impression that he outwitted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, but not for too long. Erdogan is a no lesser Machiavelli; he has already ordered his rubber-stamp parliament to approve stationing Turkish forces in Azerbaijan, to counter the Russian presence.

Despite assurances by Putin and Lavrov that no Turkish forces will serve as peacekeepers, Erdogan and Aliyev insist that they will.

As we can see, Armenia’s fate and that of Karabakh will become incidental in this power play between the two rivals.

What is more alarming, Turkey has initiated troop concentrations on Armenia’s immediate borders, near the city of Igdir. Turkish residual forces in Nakhichevan, combined with the forces in Igdir, have been keeping Armenia proper within easy grasp of the Turkish pincers.

Turkey has manifested its long-term plans for staying in Azerbaijan. It has already recruited 7,700 Arab Sunni and Turkmen mercenaries to settle in Karabakh, with the intention of scaring off returning Armenians to Stepanakert, but above all, to perform demographic engineering by planting a Sunni fifth column on Azerbaijani soil.

Sooner or later, the majority Shia population of Azerbaijan will realize that Turkey has entered their country as an occupying force, and therefore they may revolt. In that case, Turkey will use its Sunni column against the native Shiite population.

President Erdogan was betting on the re-election of President Trump. Now he has to win the good graces of the incoming Biden administration. He can succeed in that rapprochement by reducing tensions in Europe, where it has been increasingly hostile and reckless. Turkey has alienated fellow NATO member Greece and European Union member Cyprus, to the point of angering France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who has been most vocal against Erdogan’s mischief.

Incidentally, the French Senate’s non-binding vote encouraging the recognition of Karabakh’s independence was a slap for Turkey. In further bad news for Turkey, the EU sanctions against it will be operational soon. The German Bundestag is also under pressure to adopt a resolution on Karabakh.

Therefore, Erdogan can endear himself by reducing tensions within Europe and NATO membership by redirecting its actions against targets more favorable to the incoming US administration.

Erdogan administration has been reaching out, through back channels, to the Israeli government to restore the damaged relations. A move which should be welcome by the Biden team.

The Biden team plans to entice Iran to reconsider the nuclear deal and Turkey may play a more constructive role. Another target will, of course, be Russia, which can be harassed in the Caucasus, at Armenia’s expense, and in Ukraine.

Turkey has already entered into an agreement with Kiev to extract Crimea from Russia.

Biden’s Iran plans may fail if Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decide on a preemptive strike on Iran before the incoming administration’s arrival.

The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh this week was an advance signal of that intention.

The removal of friendly Karabakh forces from the Iranian border will provide broader access to Israel to conduct its intelligence and military activities in the area, again at Armenia’s expense.

At this time, Israeli military planners are gratified and feel justified in their strategic help for Azerbaijan in defeating the Armenian forces through the military drones sold to Baku.

An ASB military concludes its report with the following statement: “The lives of Armenian people were used as a negotiation chip between NATO’s Turkey, Israel/USA and Azerbaijan. The US, Israel and Turkey enabled another genocide against the Armenian people and their history, identity, culture and future. The war machine is not done yet and it is the Armenian people that paid and will continue to pay the price for it.”

By now, the only program which was carried out like clockwork has been the orderly deployment of the Russian forces. Confusion continues to reign regarding the other 8 out of the 9 points in the agreement, including the exchange of POWs and the bodies of those missing in action.

Aliyev’s administration is cynically keeping the exchange in limbo, to inflict further pain to the grieving families.

A rumor is also circulating that Baku is planning a victory parade, where Armenian POWs will be marched along with their captured armaments.

After mutilating and beheading Armenian soldiers, it seems the Azerbaijanis will not hesitate to commit another war crime by humiliating Armenian soldiers.

Many Karabakh Armenians have abandoned their homes and towns in Karabakh.

Neither the Russian authorities nor the Armenian government representatives are available to inform the displaced families which towns are being returned to Azerbaijan and which ones will remain in Armenian hands. This has created a humanitarian crisis.

The Russian forces are only concerned with repopulating Stepanakert, certainly not for altruistic reasons. Only the resettlement of Stepanakert can justify the peacekeeping mission. If Armenians do not return to their homes, there will be no need to observe the peace.

Both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov have stated that the issue of status of the remaining Karabakh territories has not been decided yet and will be addressed at a later date. If, indeed, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group takes over the negotiations as planned, the only remaining principle — out of the three principles — is the issue of self-determination. Azerbaijan has violated one principle, that of the exclusion of the use of force, and should be held accountable.

Moscow does not seem to be sanguine about taking up the status issue, for reasons whose echoes are heard in Russian media. It is obvious that Russia intends to implement the Volsky plan.

Arkady Volsky was Moscow’s special envoy to Karabakh in 1989 when the Karabakh movement began.

At the time, he had suggested bringing Karabakh under Russian control, a proposal which was adamantly refused by the Armenian side.

But if precedents that Moscow has implemented in its “Near Aboard” are any indication, that is where the Karabakh status is heading.

When Russia took over Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it offered Russian citizenship to their residents. That is in anticipation of keeping the control of the regions in case Georgia’s territorial integrity is restored. In that case, Russia will have an excuse to protect its citizens, even under Georgian control.

Like Turkey has been doing in Cyprus, by occupying one third of its territory under the pretext of defending the Turkish minority.

When the dust settles and Armenians face the dilemma of choosing between Azerbaijani or Russian citizenship, they will certainly opt for the latter.

It is obvious that that choice will present itself sooner than later, because Baku will be the first one to request the removal of the Russian forces from its territory, when the mandate expires in five years.

At this time, all eyes are on Moscow to see how the turmoil will be settled after the debacle and reassure Armenia’s population against the potential encirclement of Armenia by Turkish forces.

President Armen Sarkissian is also in Moscow to rally the support of Russian Armenians.

During his contacts, the Russian Armenian elite has said it requires Pashinyan’s resignation and transferring the power to a caretaker government, until snap elections take place in more peaceful times.

Only a national unity government can take up the rebuilding of Armenia. If the population does not find immediate hope, immigration will only intensity.

While putting its home in order, Armenian also has to vigilantly guard its borders, which are under the shooting range of the Turkish forces.

We believed that war was behind us but it looks like it is also ahead of us.


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