Armenia and Azerbaijan have some “history” together…and not in a good way. As the Ukraine War ramps up and stress is added to the Russian system, will we see the Armenians and Azerbaijanis creating some new history?
This conflict boils down to ethnic and religious differences and a shared desire to control the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. While both sides have proven their lack of skill on the battlefield, Armenia has been able to deter Azerbaijani assaults thanks to their “partnership” with Russia.
For the past 30 years, we haven’t seen much movement from Azerbaijan; this is to avoid jeopardizing their oil exports and risk retaliations from the Russians. But as Russia becomes overcommitted in its war on Ukraine, we might see some movement on this front.
The territories across the globe that have benefited from a Russian presence are all in a precarious situation. As soon as one domino falls, so will the rest…and the entire global position of the Russian Federation could be wrapped up in a matter of months. But will it be Azerbaijan that falls that first domino?
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Hey everyone. Peter Zeihan here coming to you from the Docman trail, continuing with the Ask Peter series that was born out of my flight delay in Monterrey a few days ago. One of the other questions was about Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two of them have a well, let’s just say a history of not getting along. They fought several wars. And in the light of the Ukraine war, how do I see things unfolding? The not too distant future? This is going to be one of the really big hot spots as the Russian system falters. One of the things we have seen is that as the Russians put more and more of their men and material into the Ukraine conflict, they’re having to pull it from somewhere. And while they do have nearly bottomless reserves from the Soviet era, a lot of that stuff requires refurbishment and modernization before it can be thrown into combat. But any Russian equipment that is at a base somewhere else in the world can be brought home. And we’re seeing exactly that now in the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The crux of the issue is that the Armenians are Christian, the Azerbaijanis are nominally Shia muslim. But really they’re kind of non-religious. And the two have been duking it over a chunk of territory called Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, the Armenians claim that Nagorno-Karabakh is the birthplace of their nation, which it’s not. But, you know, Armenia has a very nomadic history. They’ve wandered all around, he’s going to tell you in the Caucasus. But this is one of their older settlements. And so the belief that this is theirs is very real, very palpable, and is shared by the locals. The Azerbaijanis see this as part of their territory, as it has been since the 1920s, predating the Soviet period and in a war as a Soviet and was breaking up, the Armenians were able to take control of it. And the Armenian diaspora in the world, most notably in France, in the United States, was successful in getting a lot of Western aid, not to Azerbaijan, who was the victim of the war, but Armenia who launched it because of the whole Christian thing. The Armenians aren’t very good Christians either, but that’s a side issue in conflicts. Ever since the Russians have established a relationship with the Armenians. The Russians like to side with minorities who are surrounded by majorities very similar to the U.S. strategy in order to try groups apart. So in this case, they sided with the Armenians against the Azerbaijanis. It got them a military base just outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, where they have about 5000 troops. And now the Azerbaijanis are always concerned that should they launch a war to retake what they see as their territory, that the Russians will get involved and they’ll just absolutely get slammed.
Azerbaijan has half of its population in the city of Baku. Almost all of their exports are oil and they go by pipeline either through Russia or these days through Georgia and Turkey, going by another area that the Russians are backing called Ossetia in Georgia. And the Russians could break that line with ease. And so the role of the aggressor has traditionally been with Armenia, because Armenia feels rightly that it’s hiding under Russia’s skirts and can’t be hurt. Well, the map of that has changed a lot in the last two years. We now have two things that have shifted. Number one, the Russians are overcommitted in Ukraine and have actually drained some of their supplies and a few of their troops from Armenia, as well as their bases in Georgia. In order to keep the Ukraine war rolling. Second, the technological suite has shifted. The Armenians and especially Azerbaijanis, are dealing with old Soviet equipment that were the hand-me-downs from the Soviet Union. The Soviets or the Russians hung on to their better stuff and left some of the crap out in the provinces. And the Azerbaijanis have proven over and over and over again that they are absolutely incompetent fighters, especially when it comes to infantry and or tank warfare. And the Armenians are just wipe the floor with them because they’ve been in a superior morale position. They’ve had the high ground and they have more support from abroad independent of Russia. What has changed, though, is that the Azerbaijanis and the Turks are friends. They’re the same similar ethnic group and the Turks have become world leaders in small drone technology. And the Turkish drones have proven excellent at taking out armored tanks and aircraft guns and the like. So in a military conflict back in 2019, now summer 2019, there is about a one month long war where the Azerbaijanis, using almost exclusively drones, rolled into parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and just blew the Armenian position to pieces, destroying almost their entire air defense network. The only part that survived is the part the Armenians turned off any tanks that were in the area. And by the time we got to the third week of the war, there was so little hardware to go after they started targeting people and the result was an absolute route that for the first time since 1992 saw the Azerbaijani is actually gain ground and quite a bit and now with the Russians overcommitted in Ukraine, the question is how long it will be until the Azerbaijanis move again.
So one of the things that people forget is between 1993 and today, the Armenian economy really didn’t change in size. It was basically a very corrupt system. It had an old nuclear power plant that the Russians maintained for them badly, I might add. And there was a lot of money that came in from the diaspora. While they were doing that, the Azerbaijanis were very successful at going out and courting foreign investment and they brought in tens of billions of it. And over the course of the last 30 years they’ve grown from this provincial backwater economy that was basically based on caviar to being a major oil and natural gas exporter. And so today, the Azerbaijani economy is roughly a factor of 25 larger than that of Armenia, and their defense budget is larger than Armenia’s entire GDP. So there’s still no reason to expect our Azerbaijani troops to be very good, but their equipment is now becoming interesting. What that means moving forward is as it becomes apparent or if it becomes apparent that the Russians really are losing in Ukraine and they are all in, then other entities around the world are going to take action in places where the Russians have held them at bay. And I think the single most likely place for that to happen is negative, horrible, because as soon as the Azerbaijanis feel they can get their land back without suffering reprisals, I’m pretty sure they’re going to take it.
So for those of you who want to like, you know, encourage this to happen, the play is in Azerbaijan. If you can do defense cooperation in Azerbaijan, like we have done in Ukraine for the last several years, that would raise the cost to Moscow of any sort of reprisal anyway. It’s a cold war that is turning warm and very soon is likely to turn hot. And it’s going to have some very big implications. Once one of these dominoes falls somewhere, everyone else around the world is going to realize that the Russians really can’t do anything. And then the entire global position of the Russian Federation will be wrapped up in a matter of months.
Alright. See you next time.