“The guns are silent now – but for how long?”

Mark Galeotti in the Moscow Times:

its [the Kremlin’s] inability and seeming unwillingness to control this six-week war had become increasingly problematic, especially as Armenia… was suffering attacks even on its own territory.

This was all the more serious given Turkey’s extensive and evident support for Azerbaijan…

On the day of the ceasefire agreement, Azerbaijan shot down a Russian MI-24 helicopter even though it was in Armenian airspace, heading to the Russian military base in the town of Gyumri. Baku apologized and Moscow immediately accepted the apology. Almost as if Country A shooting down a Country B aircraft over Country C were a run of the mill incident and not an outrage.

The irony is that it is not that Russia did not have the political and military muscle to act more quickly and decisively, had it wanted to.

The response to the shooting down of its aircraft in many ways demonstrates a decay in Moscow’s will, its capacity to maintain its imperial pretensions that has been evident for some time.

I don’t have the expertise to judge if Russia had the military muscle so I defer to Galeotti’s judgement. Obviously, Armenia is much close to Russia than Libya or Syria geographically, logistically, politically and culturally. In addition, Russia has military a base there.

But, on the other hand, Azerbaijan is also close to Russia in a lot of ways. It’s tempting to think that Russia didn’t want to go to war with Azerbaijan because it had too much too lose from alienating Azeris, including the (reportedly) multi-million Azeri diaspora in Russia.

But I suspect the true reason is that Putin’s team fears losing to Erdoğan’s team in an obviously, painfully humiliating way. I even have a hunch that Putin is in awe of Erdoğan and is acting, subconsciously perhaps, as if he were his little brother or assistant gang leader. When Erdoğan converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Moscow expressed “regret” but voiced no objection. That was the end of resistance. A sign of dejection, I wrote then; a silent capitulation, I would conjecture now.

This is managing decline, a Russia that in regional terms is strong in capacities, weak in will, trying to make the best of a situation, and in the process disappointing its allies and doing nothing to deter its challengers. All one can say is that at least the guns are silent now — but for how long?

Betraying its allies sounds more like it. The question at the end of Galeotti’s article is well posed. What if the Russian peacekeepers get attacked from the Azeri side? In 2008, a similar attack was a pretext for the Russian offensive in Georgia. However, the Kremlin neither respected nor feared the Georgians. In contrast, at the moment it fears alienating Azerbaijan and provoking Turkey into action. In other words, there’s no guarantee that the Russian peacekeepers will not withdraw without a fight in an emergency.


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