Staunton, March 22 – Most analysts have focused on the possibility that Vladimir Putin in need of a new victory will attack Belarus, Kazakhstan, or one of the Baltic countries, but all of them have drawbacks: he has a nominal alliance with the first two and the last three are members of NATO.
Consequently, some commentators are beginning to suggest that the Kremlin leader may again be looking to the Caucasus, possibly renewing his war against Georgia given his new accords with Abkhazia and South Osetia which de facto absorb those two breakaway republics in the Russian Federation.
That leaves Azerbaijan, the main geopolitical prize of the Trans-Caucasus and a country that not only has internal tensions that Moscow has shown it is more than willing to exploit and growing tensions with the West over human rights issues but one that is locked in a conflict with Armenia over Karabakh and the other Yerevan-occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
That conflict has been heating up in recent weeks, with the number of losses on each side growing to the point that some are speaking of the opening of a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia (polit.ru/article/2015/03/20/karabakh/, kavkaztimes.com/?p=6521 and
Given that it already has a base in Armenia and is committed to building up Yerevan’s army, Putin could launch a variant of a “hybrid” war against Azerbaijan using Russian-supplied Armenian forces in order to bring pressure to bear on Baku. Moscow could then pick up the pieces.
Nor would Moscow have to send Russian forces through its land border with Azerbaijan. Instead, it could provide arms to militants in Daghestan who could be easily persuaded to go south and cause trouble. The Russian government as it has done in Ukraine would disavow any responsibility.
Moscow could use any Armenian victories as a means to spark a change in policy or even regime in Baku, promising the current Baku government or a future one that it would change sides and help Azerbaijan drive out the Armenians, a nation that Moscow has always declared its support for but has always been willing to sacrifice for other goals.
As one Baku commentator elegantly put it several years ago, in the south Caucasus from Moscow’s point of view, Georgia is the way, Armenia is the tool, but Azerbaijan is the prize. In the current environment, that could make it a tempting target, especially given Baku’s problems with its own population, with its neighbors, and with the West.
Addendum: An additional indication that Moscow may be preparing to move into Azerbaijan is provided by the claim of the leader of the Eurasian Movement of Azerbaijan that 70 percent of that country’s population would like to be part of the Russian Federation (avrasiya.info/xeberler/2317-bragim-sel-70-naseleniya-azerbaydzhana-za-prisoedinenie-respubliki-k-rossii.html).