Azerbaijan becomes the challenge for Russia in Karabakh conflict - Tom de Waal

What does the widening of atrocities in Karabakh region mean? How should one read into the spillover of clashes into Armenia and Azerbaijan? What is Turkey’s strategy in its direct involvement on Azeri side? How does one explain the indecision of Russia to intervene in the conflict, as it passes its eighth day? Is the Turkish engagement the beginning of a Cold War between Ankara and Moscow?

Tom de Waal, a top expert on the Caucasus and the author of the book ‘Black Garden”, discusses the Armenian-Azeri war and its possible impact, with Yavuz Baydar, Editor of Ahval.

Theatre of atrocities: “The conflict is widening and intensifying. Geography in this conflict means you have to fight on several spots (at the same time). The Karabakh war in 1990’s was a localised, low-tech affair, with poor weaponry. But (the difference) now is that it’s a war of two heavily armed states, particularly on Azerbaijani side. But Armenia also uses long range missiles and has control of mountainous terrain…”

Turkish involvement: “It is very serious. For Armenia, Turkey is the biggest existential threat. It’s been in peace with Turkey since 1920; for a hundred years there has been no shooting war. And now suddenly Turkey comes in on the side of Azeris. (Such engagement) is a source of fear in the Armenian DNA - a huge issue for Armenians.”

Ankara’s strategy: “Turkey seems to want to fill the international vacuum. The U.S. and Europe are absent, and the Russians do not really know what to do. Turkey and Azerbaijan are trying to exploit the indecision and weakness in order to break the OSCE process and remake it in their favour. It seems to be their strategy…”

Russian indecision: “The U.S. doesn’t have any appetite to get involved in the conflict for various reasons. Russians have troops in Armenia, but not in Azerbaijan. If Russia intervenes directly in Azerbaijan, it would jeopardize its relations with its neighbour. And their reputation in Armenia is being lost because of this lack of reaction… The better Azerbaijan does, the less influence Russia will have (over the conflict’s resolution)…”

Erdoğan testing Putin’s patience: “These two leaders have had mutual respect so far. But to interfere directly into a region in which Russia has the influence, may alter the stakes. To face each other by proxy in Libya is one thing, but to engage directly in the Caucasus may spell the beginning of an antagonistic story. Russia has leverage to retaliate at Turkey in many places…”