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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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Why Azerbaijan launched a military operation against Armenia

Sep 19, 2023

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Azerbaijan initiated what it termed “anti-terrorist” operations in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Azerbaijanis are insisting on the “full withdrawal” of ethnic Armenian forces as a prerequisite for peace in this disputed area. Nagorno-Karabakh, primarily inhabited by ethnic Armenians and located within Azerbaijan, has been a persistent source of conflict between the two countries since the late 1980s.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains that while Azerbaijan may not be sufficiently “confident” to launch a large-scale assault, it could undertake a more manageable military action.

Excerpted from Peter’s Sept. 19 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Well, my attempt at prepping a video this morning and getting ahead of a brewing war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has failed. Hostilities broke out within minutes of me finishing the recording, but here’s what’s what…

Good morning from foggy Asheville, North Carolina, Peter Zion here and today we’re going to talk about some things that are going on with the Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Now Armenia and Azerbaijan are two of the 15. post Soviet republics, they were constituent parts of the Soviet Union, and they sell into war between the two of them, while the Soviet Union still existed gives you an idea of the depth of the animosity. I could write a small book about the details of why they’re warring. But the bottom line is, is that the two of them have an integrated geographic system. And the people that we today consider the Armenians and to a lesser degree, the Azerbaijanis have kind of moved around throughout history. So the Europeans is claims on each other’s territories are pretty robust. But most importantly, the access points to and from their core population centers intermingle. And it’s very difficult for one have enough security, if the other one does in the 1990s. The war basically took a pretty familiar form. The Armenians using backing and security guarantees from the Russians were able to launch a series of assaults on Azerbaijani positions and usually outmaneuver them, not just because they had better trained troops and higher morale, but the Azerbaijani troops were honestly completely incompetent. And in the course of the war, Azerbaijan ultimately lost control of over a fifth of their territory. And a lot of that remains occupied by the Armenians today, the biggest change in the war happened a little over constant been two years now. Yeah, it’s been about two years when Azerbaijan got a hold of a bunch of Turkish combat drones, and in a lightning conflict that lasted under a month, just decisively destroyed every Armenian force they came up against. Now, a couple things here, number one, this was the first time we really saw drones in combat as a regular plank of military policy, as opposed to just doing a little recon or assassinations here and there, it was the mainstay of the B Azerbaijani effort to the Azerbaijanis only had the drones Azerbaijani troops may be better training and better equipment than they did back during the war in the 1990s. But they’re still broadly incompetent. So the Azerbaijanis were only able to follow up on those assaults in a very limited way. Which brings us to today. The we’ve had two big changes in circumstance. Number one, the Azerbaijanis have spent the last year training if the regular forces are still undoubtedly awful, but they’re not as awful as they used to be. And so if we were to see a repeat of the War of two years ago, when the drones cleared the way the Azerbaijanis undoubtedly would be able to advance further and take more territory and they know it and their medians know it. On the other side of things. The Armenians security guarantor of the Russians is bogged down up to its eyeballs in Ukraine. Sorry for the mixed metaphor there. i That’s all I got. And they’ve been steadily pulling troops out of every other operation that they’ve got everywhere. A lot of the African troops have been pulled back. The the forces that the Russians used to keep on NATO’s borders have largely been relocated. There are other troops in the caucuses that have been returned. As for the Russian forces in Armenia, that are supposedly there to guarantee the secured their ally, you know, will they fight Han they fight? And is all their equipment still there? And do the Russians even have the capacity to think about getting involved in a second military conflict? Remember that Russian forces don’t have a land connection to Armenia that’s direct, they have to go through either Georgia Azerbaijan to countries that obviously have a vested interest in that not happening. If they feel they can stand up to the Russians, which now they might. So if you are a media, your only solution here is to find a another security guarantor, and options are thin. Number one would be the United States, which would be a big push. But as Rashad already gets along pretty well with the Americans, and anything that with the Americans is going to require some sort of return to the status before the war in the 1990s, which means our media giving up all the land that they’ve conquered, that could get interesting. Number two is Turkey. But Turkey is a tight ally of Azerbaijan. So again, same problem that just leaves her run. Now Iran is Muslim, Armenia is Christian. But as geopolitics knows no loyalties, the two of them have been de facto allies for most of the time since the post Soviet collapse. Iran and the Russians, while they don’t always see eye to eye broadly do see the Turks and the Americans as a problem. And Azerbaijan is populated by Azerbaijanis and the single largest ethnic minority in Iran are people of Azeri descent. So the Iranians have always been concerned about having an independent Azerbaijan on their borders. Which brings us to an interesting little quirk here. The Armenian lobby in the United States is very powerful not just because of culture, you know, This isn’t just sharing the Kardashians, it is very deeply wound itself into the use of State Department and into Hollywood. And as a result, usually the second third or fourth largest single component of the US aid budget has been going to Armenia. And that was established during the wars in the 1990s, when it was the Armenians who were very clearly the aggressors. It’s a potent force, even today, especially in Congress, which means as our media is looking for alternatives, we’re going to see something really colorful in the United States. We’re going to see the entrenched our immediate lobby going head to head with the entrenched anti Iranian Lobby because the two of us on this topic are going to be diametrically opposed. And against all of this, you’ve got the Azerbaijani is trying to figure what they can do next. Whenever you have a mountainous territory, it’s all about the access points. There are very few places and a lot of mountain chains where you can run supplies or troops or transport or economics. And you fight over those corridors. There were a couple of those corridors that are now in dispute, or while they were always in dispute in hot dispute between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis and if he Azerbaijanis get their way they’re going to be able to cut a connection, really the only one that matters between Armenia and Iran all together, that can’t help but trigger a response from Tehran. And all of a sudden US politics is very interesting on this topic. It’s one of those weird things where domestic politics and foreign politics can merge in a way that is, well, delightfully lively. I don’t think that the Azerbaijanis are confident enough to do a general assault, but cutting a single corridor and putting a few troops in there in order to engage the Turks and the Americans responses. Yeah, I can see that totally working. All right. That’s it for me. I’ll let you know more as I see it.

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