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Post-war Armenia: New remedies for old maladies

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՛՛The Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of the security of Artsakh՛՛,- is stated in the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia updated last year. The current political realities which emerged after the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh destroyed Armenia’s security system which has lasted for more than two and half decades,thuscreating absolute uncertainty.  The current situation not only causes existentialmeances for the Armenianness of Artsakh, but also create new threats for the actornessof the Republic of Armenia for the long run. The problematic demarcation issues with the Republic of Azerbaijan, the reopenning of the regional communication routes and also the assymetric dependence on Russia create real threats for Armenia’s sovereignty. The ongoing concerns around these problems pave necessary ground for the spread of frustration in the society which is reflected in the statementscalling for deepenening integration with Russia, even worse to become a part of Russia.

Unfortunately, it is now really difficult for the Armenian side to acknowledge that the status quo had been succesfullty kept due to the fragile geopolitical equilibrium. But the reality dramatically changed in 2014-2015 when the USA started withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Middle East andshifting its attention towards the East Asia.  Moreover, the downing of the Russian fighting jet by Turkey resulted in new state of affairsin the region. This new period was symbolized for the Armenian side by the April war back in April, 2016 and then reached its peak in the recent war of 2020.  Several important traits of this new era have been either misinterpreted or ignored by the Armenian side.  The most important one is the new nature of the Russo-Turkish relations which are product of the above-mentioned events starting since 2014, which are aimed at filling the power vacuum gap in the Middle East by the Russo-Turkish tandem.

The state of the art of the Russo-Turkish bilateral relations is excellently described by th MFA of Russia S. Lavrov as ‘sui generis cooperation and competition’. Ignoring this fact and presuming that the possible war could have the repetition of the April War by its scale, and the Russian side should have been interested in the maintance of the status quo albeit deviated, speaks about the Armenian side’s underestimation of the current realities around Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and the wider region in general. The existing consensus between Turkey and Russia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is obviously shaped by their attempts of redistributing the spheres of influence in the entire region thus trying to keep all extraregional actors and first of all the West out. Unfortunately, it led to devastating consequences for the Armenian side.  The geopolitcal myopia of the Armenian side resulted in the unprecedented destruction, seen last time a century ago again by the performance of the same Russo-Turkish pair, which then led to the partition and sovietization of Armenia. The claims stemming from  the Armenian side, including the ruling elite,  that the war prepration rests only with the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance and for the Russian side it was undesirable and unexpectable, causes doubt based upon the bellow-suggested explanations.

First of all, it’s necessacry to recall that the post-elections demostrations which started in Belarus, a OSCT/EAEU member state and a close neighbor of Russia, should have been worrying, if of course there were directed against the Kremlin and were sponsored by the West. And in light of these events, the opening of  so-called ”second frontier” against Russia in the South Caucasus  should have induced Russia to keep the balance in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at any cost, at least by supporting the weaker party – Armenia- by solving the problem of supplies in advance, avoiding possible blockades of Armenia.Another  nuance which deepens the concern that the war wasn’t surprise for Russia, was the post-election revolutionary situation in Kyrgyzstan, another Russian sphere of influence, which happened in the beginning of October, when the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was at its height. Though the Kremlin-backed Russian media channels and prominent analysts were doing everything to show that there was a Western conspiracy working against Russia at the same time in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan, however in reality this anti-western paranoia doesn’t find reasonable ground as in all three dimensions Russia’s stance has strengthened in the result.

Finally, the last fragment which attracts attention, is the timing of the war. The period of presidential elections campaign of the USA, when both the ruling administration and Biden’s team were fully busy with the election preparations, and France alone couldn’t counterbalance Russia and restrain Turkey at the same time. The preelection timing was an ideally calculated as the polls of the previous period showed that Trump didn’t have chances for reelection. This fact wasn’t the most desirbale option for Russia and Turkey given the isolationist nature of Trump’s foreign policy, on the one hand, and Biden’s tough stance against Russia and Turkey on the other hand. Overall, the aforementioned developments have shaped the current state of affairs in the South Caucasus having devastating effects for Armenia. It’s out of question that Russia, possessing huge amount of resources and tools at its disposal,could react to this conflict properly in order not to harm its ally’s – Armenia’s interests,  if, of course, it was stemming from its intersts and agenda in the region. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian-Russian relations have evolved in a wrong way, making Armenia’s position more vulnerable and causing assymetric dependence on Russia. This has been conditioned because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, which have kept borders of Armenia with these counties closed. The fact of being landlocked and having 2 out of 4 borders closed, staying out of the regional economic projects and also having tensions between Iran and the West, which makes the southern border unreliable, have created favorable conditions for Russia to establish total control over Armenia, shaping that vary mindset of the Kremlin towards Armenia:Where can  they escape? (Акудаониденутся?).Moreover, after the second Karabakh war, domestic excitements, alarms and worrying in Armenia, pave the ground for the expansion of the thoughts ranging from joining the Union State of Belarus and Russia up to joining Russian Federation as one of its entities like Tatarstan or Chechnya.  This delusive and apathetic discourse, which is being encouragedboth by the Russian media channels and some pro-Kremlin politicians and parties, needs to be neutralised only by increasingArmenia’s substantiveness as a fully functional subject of Internationa law. Certainly, the economic, military and political security state should have been totally different, if Armenia’s leadership lacking legality and legitimacy, didn’t aleinate the strategically important facilities to Russia back in the beginning of 2000s.The so-called program ‘property for debt’and later deals passedalmost all major and important facilities of the Armenian economy under control of Russia. Two strategically important facilities could and today also can change Armenia’s economic, political and security environment mostly reducing its isolation and increasing prospects of economic prosperity. These are Iran-Armenia railway and Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline.

Railway

Armenia’s assymetric dependence on Russia can be solved solely based on diversification and due to involvement of other actors as well, which will expand Yerevan’s area of maneuver.  But this diversification shouldn’t be fragile as the one back in 2000s labelled as ‘assymetic complementarity’, which again emphasized the iportant role of Russia. In that concept Russia wasn’t regarded as ‘primus inter pares – first among equals’, but it can be deescribed as ‘Russia and the rest’. Given the existing complicated relations with Turkey, in the role of primary actors involved in the Armenia’s foreign policy spectrum are Iran, China and the EU. The construction of Iran-Armenia railway has huge potential to solve a few real problems. Firstly, Armenia gains stable access to the Iranian market. Then, with th already existing railway web in Iran, Armenia gains access not only to the Central Asia but also to China. On the other hand, joining the Iranian railway, Armenia reaches the Persian Gulf and Indian ocean. In the result, Armenia becomes an important connecting ring in this whole chain between the Georgian and Iranian ports securing links between the Eastern Europe and East Asia. Iran and Armenia solve their isolation problem in some extent, while China gets an opportunity to join the Eastern Europe by sea avoinding dependence on Russia. As a result, this project and its geoeconomical influence allow Armenia to increase the role of Iran and China in the regional affairs thus creating leverage for her benefit. The fact that the existing Armenian-Georgian railway works, there is a need to build up Tabriz-Yerevan section. Doubtless, this project should be substantiated economically, which will will increase Armenia’s economic attractiveness. Last year, China and Iran signed a strategic partnership agreement, which envisages 400 bln USD Chinese investment in the development of Iran’s infrastructures over the next 25 years. The railway and roads systems compose important part of this infrastructure complex. The upgrade of Iranian facilities are aimed at solving Iran’s isolation and openinng new opportunities for China. Iran’s MFA J. Zarif announced during his last visit to Armenia, that the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia is a red light for Iran, thus highliting the vital importance of border with Armenia. It is’ot secret that if Armenia loses its southern border with Iran, then Azerbaijan and Turkey establish land contact, which isolates Iran from the North and puts an end to the existence of the Armenian statehood in general. Therefore, taking into account security importance of railway for Iran and Armenia, as well as economic attraction for Eastern Europe and China, the question of this project should receivea majorpriority for Armenia.

Gas pipeline

The next project of strategic importance, which will change the regional politics, economy and security, is the Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline. In 2005, when the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline was in the process of negotiation, Alexander Ryazanov, a vice-president of  Gazprom, declared that if Gazprom wasn’t involved in that project, it’s uncertain where this gas would flow. Certainly, this idea should have scared Armenia’s that time administration, which not only didn’t have domestic support due to corruption and authoritarian levels, but also it [the administration] had many fears that the Nagorno-Karabakh  status quo could have been changed in favor of Azerbaijan by Russian intervention. As a result, the operation of the Iraian-Armenian pipeline alongside with other facilities, including the railway of Armenia, were passed to Russia thus trying to accomodate Russia in all possible ways. In the following years, Russian Gazprom also obtained the right to operate the whole gas system of Armenia. Moreover, in December 2013, then president Serzh Sargsyan signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart, according to which, Armenia was obliged to buy gas from Gazprom until 2043. It’s worthless to mention about legality and nonsense nature of this agreement. It’s worth reminding, that a similar gas deal with Russia cost Ukraine’s former Prime-Minster Yulia Tymoshenko 7 years in prison.

Thus, the Armenian side did everything to deprive itself of having diversified gas sources. The Iranian gas pipeline has huge potential not only to liberalize Armenian domestic market, establishing fair competition, but also to provide Armenia with transit fees increasing economic attractivenessof Armenia. The Iranian gas pipeline has great potential to change the energy market of Georgia as well as reducing its dependence on Azerbaijan. Moreover, given the EU depdendence on Russian gas, it’s logical to have the Iranian gas pieplines reached to Europe crossing the Black Sea. Initial destination can be Romania. First of all, given its geographical proximity with Ukraine and Moldova, these countries may solve their gas dependence problem on Russia.On the other hand, the end destination of the pipeline can be France, which can regain its balance vis-a-vis Germany. In addition, this project may attract Turkmenistan’s attention as well, as it receives an alternative channel for the TransCaspian pipeline.

Overall, this ambitious project will solve Armenia’s and Georgia’s energy, economic, political security issues, reducing their  vulnerable  position in the region. It will change Russia’s stance in the region, thus changing also its foreign policy behavior, perception of Armenia and Georgia as well.  Armenia will solve the asymmetric devastatingdependence problem and also will have a chance to break Turkis-Azerbaijani isolation. With this project, Islamic Republic will recieve a chance to connect with Europe and to break thr isolation, which is ncessary for for the EU an Iran.  Finally, the European Union can get a free hand vis-a-vis Russia.

I am a Brussels-based independent analyst covering the South Caucasus, EU-Russia, EU-Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Eastern Partnership. I am also a policy advisor with strong interest in European Public Affairs in the areas of Tech adn start-ups, Large-scale infrastructures, energy and associations. I am holding MA in EU Studies from the College of Europe, Belgium.

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Peace, Problems and Perspectives in the Post-war South Caucasus

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The Second Karabakh War ended with the signing of the trilateral declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10, 2020. The declaration, which stopped the war and laid the foundation for solving other thorny issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the liberation of the remaining territories under occupation (Aghdam, Kalbajar, Lachin) as well as the unblocking of all economic and transport communications in the region, may have heralded the dawning of a different period in the history of a long war-ravaged region of the South Caucasus. This is evidenced by the announcement of new cooperation initiatives such as the “six-party cooperation platform” and the establishment of the “Zangezur corridor,” which aims not only to link Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also to play a wider role in enhancing the region’s standing by providing interconnectivity across diverse geographic and geopolitical zones. This process has already involved Russia and Turkey and will potentially facilitate links between Central Asia and Europe. There is much going on in the region in this regard and talks about the probability of building a Pax Caucasia in the South Caucasus are more than mere hype.

There have already been reports and testimonies about Azerbaijan’s intention to move on, post-Second Karabakh War, and adopt a maximally cooperative and magnanimous approach towards Armenia following the latter’s defeat in the war. This was apparent in the many concessions made by Azerbaijan in the post-war period, such as providing a ten-day extension (from November 15 to November 25, 2020) of the deadline for the Armenian Armed Forces and the Armenian population that had settled in Kalbajar during the occupation to leave the region, and the return to Armenia of 69 Armenian nationalsdetained in Azerbaijan and 1400 bodies. Moreover, as a gesture of good will, Azerbaijan helped with the transfer of humanitarian aid to Armenian residents in Karabakh; facilitated the transfer of goods through Azerbaijan’s main territory; allowed Armenian citizens to continue using the parts of the Gorus–Kafan highway that pass through the newly liberated Azerbaijani territories; and last, but definitely not least, for the first time in three decades the transportation of Russian natural gas to Armenia through Azerbaijan became a reality.

However, this cautious optimism about the nascent prospects of peace and cooperation in the region is facing a number of challenges. These include Armenia’s flouting of Article 4 of the November 10, 2020 declaration that demanded the withdrawal of all remaining armed groups from Azerbaijani territories; purposeful misrepresentation by Armenia of militia members captured by Azerbaijan as a result of counter-terrorist operations since November 10 as prisoners of war (PoW) and resultant attempts to exert pressure on Azerbaijan; and the newly intensified debate on who might have launched Iskandar M missiles against the Azerbaijani city of Shusha during the 44-day war. The latter issue in particular seems to boggle the mind after the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) recently discovered the remnants of an Iskandar M ballistic missile in Shusha. According to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the export version of this missile is the Iskandar E, which the Russian Federation exported only to Armenia. The Iskandar M, the remnants of one of which were discovered in Shusha,is in the sole possession of the Russian Federation. The story behind this discovery definitely has a dark side that needs to be clarified, as the absence of plausible answers may generate dangerous speculation. Either way, this issue, along with the others discussed above, is also inhibiting a seamless transition to the post-conflict rehabilitation period.

In addition to the above, the danger posed by the landmines planted in the previously occupied Azerbaijani territories is very acute. According to some estimates, Armenia spent$350 million on planting landmines in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. ANAMA is currently undertaking operations towards clearing the areas contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) and initial estimates suggest that the neutralization of UXO, missiles, and the remaining ammunition in the combat areas could require 5–6 years, while it might take some10–13 years before the mined areas are completely cleared. Although Azerbaijan is also receiving help from its friends, partners, and international organizations, including Turkey, Russia, and the United Nations, in the form of staff training, delivery of mine-clearing equipment, and financial assistance, this is obviously not yet sufficient for tackling this very difficult and precarious work.

The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that, in response to all the gestures of goodwill by Azerbaijan aimed at turning the page on hostility and embarking on building a cooperative relationship with Armenia, the latter still refuses to give Azerbaijan maps of the landmines planted in its formerly occupied territories. Worse still, as noted by the Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan – Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration at the briefing held for the diplomatic corps on the occasion of the “International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action” (April 5, 2021),on the one occasion when Azerbaijan was able to obtain maps of purported mined areas from Armenia, these maps turned out to contain false information, as ANAMA was unable to find anything based on the coordinates therein. “This could mean that Armenia purposefully misled Azerbaijan,” Mr. Hajiyev noted. Apparently, there is still no progress whatsoever in terms of persuading Armenia to cooperate on the issue of landmines. However, this is hugely important, as refusal to collaborate on such a crucial issue may diminish the already meagre prospects for achieving lasting peace and cooperation between the erstwhile enemies in the wake of Azerbaijan’s one-sided concessions to Armenia.

International conventions prohibit anti-personnel landmines (APL), the most dangerous form used against civilians. Every year, reputable organizations in the field, such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL),report thousands of people dying or being injured owing to landmines. Post-Second Karabakh war, Azerbaijan has already reported the deaths of dozens of its citizens as well as military servicemen, including Russian peacekeepers, who have died or been maimed as result of anti-personnel landmine explosions. If the correct maps of the mined areas are not given to the Azerbaijani side in due time, the numbers of casualties will increase, adding to the already daunting global statistics of human deaths due to landmines. It is hoped that Armenia will not realize too late that civilians should not be at the receiving end of the regime’s frustration and resentfulness over the war that was lost.

Thus, there are clearly visible challenges of the post-conflict period that need to be overcome. The complexity of the outstanding issues demands transparency, cooperation, and mutual compromise if there is a genuine wish to move away from the horrors of the past. This should be undertaken by all the stakeholders that signed the November 10, 2020, agreements that ended the Second Karabakh War, because unilateral efforts may likely be insufficient to ultimately break the vicious cycle of hostility and war.

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South Caucasus: Prospects and challenges

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During an online conference on the current situation in the South Caucasus, hosted by Rossiya Segodnya news agency, the executive director of the “Eurasian Development” center Stanislav Pritchin and Alexander Karavayev, a researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics, presented their joint report on the “Settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and the development of the South Caucasus: prospects and challenges.”

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Azeri and Armenian colleagues on the sidelines of the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the CIS to discuss humanitarian and economic issues related to Nagorno-Karabakh. They noted that the Russian-mediated ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh, signed on November 9, 2020, was the first document in many years to tackle systemic issues of settlement and offer a primary plan for normalizing relations between the conflicting sides.

During the online conference, Stanislav Prichin and Alexander Karavayev outlined potential areas of cooperation in various fields and identified the role of external actors, primarily of Russia and Turkey, in realizing the existing potential. They also analyzed the prospects of economic development in the South Caucasus.

Stanislav Pritchin said that the idea of writing the report came right after the signing of the peace accord in Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition to the usual collection of information, several roundtables were held, attended by Russian experts, and Armenian and Azerbaijani specialists were polled and asked the same questions. Naturally enough, Baku and Yerevan had diametrically opposite views of the results of the ceasefire agreement, with  Azerbaijan seeing them as a reflection of the changes brought about by its military victories, while Armenia views them as a major defeat that forced it to make major concessions. There was even talk about the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government. Pashinyan has so far managed to stabilize the situation, with early parliamentary elections slated for this coming summer, which will most likely keep him in power. Polls also showed that even if Pashinyan’s party loses out, Armenia will still be forced to comply with the terms of the agreement simply by virtue of its position. Indeed, Yerevan has been quick to give the Akdam, Geybaldar and Lachin regions back to Baku.

Speaking of risks and challenges, the expert noted that we are primarily talking about domestic political risks both in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as external ones – exacerbation of contradictions between outside players and, finally, the danger of a new conflict flaring up directly between Yerevan and Baku. … First of all, Armenia finds itself in the former group of risks. A  survey of experts done in February showed that 67 percent of respondents  believed that Nikol Pashinyan would not stay in power, while only 33 believed he would. The situation in Azerbaijan is calmer: they expect Armenia to fulfill all the terms of the trilateral agreement. By the way, Azerbaijan has a lot of work to do to restore the region’s infrastructure and resettle the refugees, which will prove a heavy burden on the country’s budget.

As far as external risks go, the gravest concern is the regional rivalry between Russia and Turkey. Seventy-two percent of the Armenian experts surveyed believe that this is fraught with destructive consequences, and only 28 said that Russian-Turkish interaction will help stabilize the region. The overwhelming majority of Azeri experts have no problem with the Russian and Turkish influence on the peaceful settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. The role of the OSCE Minsk Group in the settlement of the Karabakh problem is assessed differently in Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the Armenians pin hopes on the Group, the Azerbaijanis do not see any benefit from it.

The status of the Russian peacekeepers, who will stay on in the conflict zone for the next five years, is an important issue. Their mandate will automatically be renewed if it is not objected to by either side. As of now, 42 percent of Azeri experts believe that five years from now the mission of the Russian peacekeepers will be over. Just as many believe that they will still be needed, and 16 percent said that it will depend on the situation. In Armenia, 85 percent of respondents answered that five years from now the presence of Russian peacekeepers will still be needed.

The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh remains the biggest sticking point, with Azerbaijan considering this territory as its own, which is confirmed by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council issued in the wake of the Soviet breakup. The Armenians, conversely, believe that even after the conclusion of the November trilateral agreement, Nikol Pashinyan does not recognize Azerbaijan’s right to Nagorno-Karabakh. A survey of the two countries’ experts showed that in each of them the absolute majority – more than 80 percent – thinks that within the next five years the status of Nagorno-Karabakh will not acquire a mutually acceptable legal form. Pritchin also considers the problem of border delimitation in disputed territories as being intractable.

Wrapping up the political section of the report, Stanislav Pritchin outlined three possible scenarios of political development in the South Caucasus: negative, neutral and optimal. In a negative scenario, one or more parties opt out of the trilateral accord. According to the neutral scenario, some of the provisions of this agreement will be implemented, while some will not. The positive scenario sees the implementation of all provisions by all the signatories to the deal. The majority of experts in Armenia (about 80 percent) and a significant number (over 40 percent) of those in Azerbaijan, gravitate towards the second, neutral variant.

The economic part of the report was presented by Alexander Karavayev, who emphasized that it is for the first time in 30 years that a post-Soviet state is restoring its territorial integrity, including in economic terms. Not only did the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh suffer from the ethnic conflict of 1991-92, but it was not developing economically and did not have any investment status. The development took place only at the microeconomic level; there were no large-scale recovery programs sponsored by the state, including those aimed at luring major foreign investors. Karavayev warns that given the enormity of the tasks at hand one should not expect any quick results – we are talking about a decade, no less.

The Azeri leadership has outlined the first stage of restoration to run until 2025. In 2021, US 1.3 billion will be allocated for the reconstruction of energy facilities, the construction of roads, trunk infrastructure, including the creation of transit transport communications across the territory of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. To fill them with goods, Armenia, as the party that has suffered the most from the conflict, must see the prospects for making up for the losses. This could be achieved through exports, primarily of raw materials, such as copper ore and rare earth and precious metals (molybdenum, gold, etc.). In practical terms, the export of raw materials from Armenia to Mediterranean ports would be facilitated by modernizing the old Soviet railway via the Nakhichevan autonomous region to the Turkish port of Iskenderun, where there is a terminal of the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. Alexander Karavayev warned, however, that the implementation of large-scale economic projects would attract big investors and competition between them could stir up contradictions between large regional players. He still believes that “the game is worth the candle.”

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the report is that the signing of the trilateral agreement has opened a “window of opportunity” for the gradual normalization of political and economic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the settlement of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

From our partner International Affairs

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A Grey Swan: Is There a New Conflict in Donbass?

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The prospect of a new exacerbation in Ukraine’s Donbass region has worried market players. It is difficult to talk about the strong influence of bellicose statements on the currency and stock markets. However, investors have again started talking about “geopolitical risk”. The key concern stems from the fact that the resumption of a large-scale armed conflict will inevitably lead to new sanctions against Russia. Moreover, the scale of such restrictions is difficult to predict, which gives rise to the uncertainty of expectations. Should strict sanctions be viewed as a baseline scenario? What is to be expected from the development of the situation?

Ceasefire violations in Donbass were already evident in winter. The ceasefire has been in effect since July 27 last year. However, on March 31, in the Contact Group on Conflict Resolution, the Ukrainian side raised the issue of a new ceasefire statement. In fact, this meant that Kiev considered the existing agreement invalid, citing cases of shootings and military losses. Moscow criticised this initiative. All this is happening against the background of the concentration of Ukrainian troops in the conflict zone. Russian troops are also moving to the state border. Statements by Ukrainian officials, who cited a conversation between ministers, about US support in the event of a war with Russia, added fuel to the fire.

A military exacerbation may well be viewed as one possible scenario. At least it is not devoid of precedent. During the August 2008 war in in Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili launched a military campaign, citing the support of the United States, among other things, as one of his motivations. Later it turned out that such support was only conditional, but confidence in it could become a trigger for radical decisions. There is also the experience of the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. For a long time it was believed that it would be difficult for both sides to win in the conflict. As a result, Azerbaijan won a victory using new tactics: with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles. Ukraine also plans to use Turkish drones, although they have not yet appeared in large quantities in service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Kiev may also believe that a new conflict will have a high cost for Russia. Even in the event of the defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Moscow is unlikely to go beyond the existing boundaries of the DPR and LPR. New sanctions will be imposed against Russia. Perhaps the Ukrainian leadership also hopes for good luck. Even tactical successes in Donbass will strengthen the Ukrainian position.

However, this scenario is still extremely risky for Kiev. In recent years, Russia has shown that it is ready to take decisive action. Force can be used without undue hesitation. Moscow understands that the West will side with Ukraine in any scenario. But political support is one thing, and military intervention is quite another. The United States and its allies are unlikely to agree to such an intervention. Even the supply of lethal weapons will have its limits. Without a doubt, they increase the combat readiness of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, they are unlikely to allow it to achieve qualitative and quantitative superiority, even on the scale of the alleged theatre of military operations. The Russian army has undergone a high degree of modernisation. It is capable of rapidly concentrating well-trained and well-armed small units, units and large units. The threat of sanctions will also fail as a deterrent. There’s no doubt they will damage the economy. However, Moscow is unlikely to be stopped if it comes to a military conflict. In addition, Russia has a certain amount of space to vary the degree of its involvement. It can range from active support of the forces of the LPR and DPR to direct involvement in the conflict and the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the conflict zone.

Apparently, the Ukrainian leadership does not intend to bring the matter to a direct clash. It is escalating the situation, trying to attract the attention of Western partners and gain points for the future. Most likely, the Kiev authorities initiated the current manoeuvres of their own accord, and they are not the result of the “insidious game” of the West. However, the American and EU diplomats may well use such manoeuvres to put pressure on Russia. The main threat is the loss of control over the situation, should the symbolic whipping turn into a real conflict.

In the end, full-scale military operations in Donbass in the near future are not the baseline scenario. Russia is a strong adversary; the risk of big losses for Ukraine are great. Accordingly, it is hardly worth considering a scenario of a sharp tightening of sanctions against Russia. No radical aggravation—no radical sanctions.

At the same time, politics likes surprises. Erroneous assessments, the personal ambitions of leaders, the peculiarities of group decision-making with their “shift to risk”, random incidents and much more can give rise to an extreme scenario. War in this case is a “grey”, rather than a “black swan”. It is unlikely, but its parameters are quite clear. Low chances of winning a war can be offset by high expectations of its consequences. Is it not an attractive scenario to give Russia a military slap in the face during an election year? However, in Moscow, such a scenario is also, apparently, expected. With appropriate organisational conclusions.

From our partner RIAC

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