Turkey Sets Foot in South Caucasus

Turkey Sets Foot in South Caucasus

Photo: http://globallookpress.com

Turkey has officially defined its presence in the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has stated that the country's land forces have "completed preparations" for the redeployment of some of their units to Azerbaijan and will soon be sent to the zone of conflict.

Earlier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also warned about it. However, he did not specify the dates of the Turkish troops' arrival in Nagorno-Karabakh or the number of the Turkish armed contingents. In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree last week, and the parliament approved it.

On Sunday, Hulusi Akar, the Turkish Minister of Defense, also announced the terms of work of his officers in the Monitoring Center. "The Turkish military will operate together with the Russian Monitoring Center for Nagorno-Karabakh over a period of one year," TASS news agency cites Hulusi Akar.

Russia reacted to these statements with seeming calmness. Russian President's spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not find anything unexpected in it. According to him, the Turkish troops' entry into Azerbaijan is Turkey's internal affair, and participation in the Monitoring Center was envisaged by agreements reached earlier.

However, so far, Moscow's activity in this area exceeds that of Ankara. A ceasefire agreement on the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces was signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 9. It came into force on November 10.

According to the document, Armenia will return control over Agdam, Kelbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan. A 5 km wide Lachin corridor is being built to connect Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

“In order to organize the unhindered movement of residents, vehicles, and cargo in both directions, Armenia guarantees security of transport communication between the western districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic,” the agreement says. The Border Service of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) is responsible for control over this.

According to the Kremlin's website, a Russian peacekeeping force totaling 1,960 servicemen with small arms, 90 armored personnel carriers, 380 vehicles, and special equipment is introduced in the area. The contingent will stay there for five years with a possibility of extension of the term.

In principle, this situation was predictable. As wek.ru has already reported, despite the military successes, Azerbaijan was not ready for protracted military operations anyway. Initially, it expected a "short and victorious" war. Besides, the Azerbaijani leadership was not going to carry out large-scale combat operations. It only expected to get back the Azerbaijani territories seized by the Armenian forces in the period from 1988 till 1994.

Armenia, in its turn, claims that it has not lost the war. Its leadership does not hide its revenge plans, accusing Russia of failing to step into the conflict on Armenia's side. Moscow, for its part, did not react to the accusations. The Russian authorities know perfectly well that if they openly assist Armenia, Azerbaijan will draw on support from Turkey. In addition, Moscow understands that today, in terms of finance the Azerbaijani ally is more lucrative than the Armenian one.

Yet, Russia has not refused to deploy the peacekeeping contingent. However, most likely, it was the initial plan of the Russian leadership. Some observers, especially the Armenian ones, believe that the deployment of peacekeepers is little more than occupation of those territories.

One of the Russian staff officers, who asked wek.ru to withhold his name, said the actual number of servicemen on the contingent might be many times bigger than the declared one, and it would extremely difficult to verify that.

"Count the carrying capacity of the IL-76 and Ruslan transporters,” the officer said in an interview with wek.ru. “A total of 2,000 soldiers and officers might have been transported to the area with the help of those twenty flights on the IL-76’s alone, for example. These flights were made on the first day of troop deployment. In addition, the equipment and soldiers were brought in by ground transport. What is the so-called “special equipment?” The term might mean just absolutely anything. Almost in a similar way, troops were once deployed to Afghanistan. That is, a certain figure was declared but in fact, there were as many troops as necessary. It is very difficult to prove otherwise.”

That opinion is indirectly confirmed by the resolution adopted by the Federation Council on November 18 on the use of the Russian Armed Forces outside the Russian territory. The Federation Council does not deny that the urgency of the resolution was directly linked to the events in Nagorno-Karabakh.

There are also other opinions. For example, Aleksey Arestovich, a Ukrainian military analyst, believes that Russia is the main losing side in the conflict. In his view, the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers is nothing more than a trap that Turkey prepared for Russia to make it get enmeshed in a new regional conflict and to ruin relations with all the parties involved in the final run.

“Azerbaijan has made the most of it,” Arestovich said. “Armenia was hit by the crisis. Turkey came back to Transcaucasia (South Caucasus). Chances are it will be the main outcome of the last war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Kremlin and Ankara are competing for the Byzantine heritage. Meanwhile, Turkey opened the gate to Transcaucasia that for 30 years remained a zone of exclusive influence of the Kremlin.

“To my thinking, there might be a second military tour in spring, in summer, in a year, or in two to five years. Or the conditions under which Armenia itself will refuse to continue holding the sham enclave might emerge.”

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