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Long war: are Armenia and Azerbaijan ready for a military conflict?

This post was published in Gazeta.ru. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – In Transcaucasia, tension still hangs over the recent clashes between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The parties are actively conducting military exercises, including with the involvement of their closest allies – Russia and Turkey. The military observer of Gazeta.Ru, Mikhail Khodarenok, dealt with the military-political situation in the region.

Units of the 102nd military base of the RF Armed Forces in Armenia last week held exercises in which more than 1,500 servicemen, 500 units of military equipment, including MiG-29 fighters, Mi-24P, Mi-8MTV helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles took part.

The training took place against the background of aggravated relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Baku and Yerevan continue to dispute the ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is officially part of Azerbaijan. Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh refuse to obey the Azerbaijani authorities. Meanwhile, there are practically no Azerbaijanis left in Karabakh.

The exercise of the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia has become far from the only event of combat and operational training in the region in recent years.

In early August, Azerbaijan jointly with Turkey is conducting large-scale tactical exercises with the participation of air force units in Nakhichevan. The formations and military units of the parties operate at this event in accordance with the plans for bringing to the highest degree of combat readiness.

Training flights with elements of aerobatics are being conducted during the exercises, which involve combat aircraft, military transport and attack helicopters, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said in an official statement.

In turn, a surprise check of combat readiness is carried out in the Armenian armed forces, and a number of units and formations are made ready to perform combat missions in accordance with their operational designation.

And all this is in addition to the real battles between the units and units of the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which began on July 12 in the adjacent regions – Tovuz and Tavush, also bordering on Georgia and located several hundred kilometers from Nagorno-Karabakh.

The military-political situation in the region heated even more after July 16, when Azerbaijan threatened to launch a missile strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant 37 kilometers from Yerevan if Armenia decides to launch missile strikes on strategically important infrastructure facilities in Azerbaijan, in particular, the Mingechevir dam reservoir, the destruction of which will cause catastrophic consequences.

There is currently no shortage of forecasts of how a possible large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan will end.

Usually, representatives of the expert community in this case compare the number of tanks, guns and mortars, combat aircraft, and specify the tactical and technical characteristics of operational-tactical missile systems and multiple launch rocket systems on both sides.

All this, of course, is of great importance, but it does not play the main role in armed confrontation. For example, in the Arab-Israeli wars (in the same “Yom Kippur” war), Cairo, Damascus and Amman excelled Jerusalem in many respects by an order of magnitude, but the overall result for the Arab side was more than sad. None of the assigned operational and strategic tasks was achieved, and losses in personnel and equipment were many times higher than those of Israel.

If we assess the military-strategic and economic potentials of Baku and Yerevan, then in all positions Azerbaijan currently surpasses Armenia, and several times – both in territory, and in population, in GDP and military budget, and in quantity (and in many cases and quality) of weapons and military equipment.

Finally, Azerbaijan is a country with a young population that is constantly growing, and the country’s economic complex is dynamically developing.

Today Baku is able to pay for weapons and military equipment purchased abroad with “real” money, although the falling prices for raw materials somewhat tempered the appetites of the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan.

The main problem of the armed forces of Azerbaijan is the quality and professionalism of fighters and commanders. In Soviet times, the percentage of natives of the Azerbaijan SSR among the officers of the Armed Forces of the USSR was relatively small, and in a number of branches of the Armed Forces and combat arms, they were practically impossible to meet. And it is impossible to appoint people as commanders of regiments and divisions in a directive manner.

The process of training national military personnel requires decades of painstaking efforts, even for the formation of a combat-ready corps of junior commanders (non-commissioned officers and petty officers). Of course, the political leadership of Azerbaijan is aware of this problem. Turkey renders great assistance in the training of national personnel in Baku.

In turn, Armenia is a country with a shrinking population, the volume of GDP is relatively small, there are practically no sources of foreign exchange earnings, the state can buy modern weapons and military equipment only on credit.

Both sides have one common problem. Yerevan and Baku must answer the question: if a large-scale armed conflict between these countries takes on a protracted nature, then how will they compensate for the losses in personnel, weapons and military equipment?

What is on the equipment of both armies can be lost relatively quickly in the first battles. Personnel and officers trained for modern warfare are practically absent in reserve, although there is no shortage of draft resources in Azerbaijan, for example.

There is no clear answer as to the capacity at which modern weapons damaged during the fighting will be repaired. Presumably, there is no strategic stock of ammunition, as well as other material resources necessary for waging a long war.

There is reason to believe that both Baku and Yerevan are aware of the existing problems, and, apparently, to a large extent this serves as a deterrent. The answer to the question “are both sides ready for a long and bloody conflict?”, Most likely, at the present time, is negative.

As for the possible allies of Armenia and Azerbaijan in a hypothetical armed confrontation, in this case they usually name Russia and Turkey.

However, both in Moscow and Ankara, it will be very difficult to formulate the military-political goals of participation in such a conflict, which are understandable to the overwhelming majority of the population of both countries. There will be obvious problems with this question in both cases.

Is reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan possible? It is believed that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be resolved by peaceful means, through diplomatic negotiations, and in this regard, all necessary efforts should be made to prevent further escalation, including through operational interaction with key partners in the region.

However, it should be borne in mind that the degree of mutual interethnic hatred is currently so high that any attempt at reconciliation, even a hint of a possible compromise, will not be accepted either in Yerevan or Baku. And the leaders on both sides, even those who only voiced the possibility of such steps, will simply be swept away by a wave of popular anger within 24 hours.

On the whole, the situation for Baku and Yerevan is a dead end, and there is simply no way out of it. The end of history can be only in one case – when one of the parties to the conflict dictates its terms of unconditional surrender. However, neither Baku nor Yerevan is ready for such a war of destruction.

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