south front for saturday nov 21

Military Situation In Nagorno-Karabakh
South Front, Nov 21 2020

A brief overview of the recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region:

  • On Nov 21, Russian Minister of Defense announced that peacekeeping forces completed deployment in Karabakh;
  • On Nov 20, Russian peacekeepers escorted 23 buses and 250 personal vehicles with refugees to Stepanakert from the territory of Armenia;
  • Since Nov 14, more than 6k residents who previously left their homes have returned to Stepanakert, according to Russia;
  • On Nov 20, 18 Il-76 aircraft and two An-124 “Ruslan” aircraft delivered 33 pieces of equipment to support the Russian peacekeeping operation in Karabakh.

Russian Border Guards To Be Deployed To Armenia-Azerbaijan Border, Pashinyan Continues Leadership Shuffle
South Front, Nov 21 2020

On Nov 20, Russian Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov said that at the request of the Armenian side, the Russian Border Service will deploy additional forces on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to him, 188 soldiers have been allocated. Bortnikov said at meeting with Pres Putin on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh:

In accordance with the decision taken in order to ensure the border security of the Republic of Armenia, measures to maintain peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and at the request of the Armenian side, the border department of the FSB in the Republic of Armenia has been allocated an additional reserve in the amount of 188 military personnel and the required amount of equipment.

According to him, the border guards will deploy additional forces in the settlements of Tekh and Syrgyt. Putin asked whether contact has been established with the Azerbaijani side. Bortnikov said:

Yes, we are in full contact, we exchange information around the clock. There are no serious issues.

Putin said that conditions for the arrival of humanitarian organizations have been created in Karabakh, and that representatives of the WHO, the UN World Food Program and the UN Mine Action Service could work on the site. According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia has completed the deployment of the peacekeeping contingent. The observation posts are being finalized. On Nov 20, Russian peacekeepers escorted another convoy of buses and personal vehicles with refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh from the territory of the Republic of Armenia. 23 buses and 250 private cars proceeded from Yerevan to the main square of Stepanakert, accompanied by patrols of the peacekeeping contingent and the military police of the Russian Federation. Russian military personnel ensured the safety of buses moving across the contact line to return civilians to their homes in Stepanakert. Since Nov 14, more than 6k residents who had previously left their homes have returned to Stepanakert.

In Armenia, Pashinyan, who still refuses to take any responsibility, introduced the newly appointed Minister of Emergency Situations to the staff. Pashinyan thanked the former Minister Felix Tsolakyan for his work and wished the newly-appointed Minister Andranik Piloyan success in his future activities. Protests demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister have been going on in Yerevan for 11 days. Yesterday, for the first time, protest actions went outside the city of Yerevan, and there were also rallies in the city of Gyumri. Armenia is still under martial law. Police are arresting protesters. To date, there have been 85 arrests. The opposition from 17 extra-parliamentary parties and two parliamentary parties have not yet submitted a plan of action and a new candidate, as well as the plan they propose for transferring power to the “rescue Committee,” is not clear. In an interview with the newspaper Aravot, he stressed the importance of new elections, and suggested several ways, including technocratic leadership of the country. He recalled that the presidential Institute is designed for such cases, as long as everyone sits down at the negotiating table. There are rumors Pashinyan will change 80% of the government. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan announced:

After entering Aghdam, the Azerbaijani armed forces carried out several activities. The mine-clearing of the terrain was carried out at night-time to ensure the safe movement of our units in this direction, engineering work was completed and the roads along the route of the movement were prepared for use. Appropriate measures are being taken to deploy the military personnel and armored vehicles of our units in the territory. The National Flag of Azerbaijan was raised in the center of the Aghdam city, the National Anthem was performed and a report was delivered to Pres Aliyev.

Azerbaijani Troops Enter First Of Districts That Are Set To Be Returned Under Karabakh Deal
South Front, Nov 20 2020

Late on Nov 19, Azerbaijani troops started entering the district of Agdam in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Agdam is one of the districts surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic that Azerbaijan lost to Armenian forces after the collapse of the USSR, as a result of the First Karabkah War. On Nov 20, the district is set to be fully transfered to Azerbaijan under the peace deal reached by Baku and Yerevan to put an end to the Second Karabkah War earlier in November. An overwhelming majority of Armenians living in Agdam have already left the area. Over the past days, authorities of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also known as the Republic of Artsakh) were assisting in the evacuation. Many of the leaving Armenians were burning their homes in order to not allow the Azerbaijanis to seize them and use them in the future. The next district, which is set to be transferred to Azerbaijani control, is Kalbajar. Originally, it had to be handed to Baku forces on November 15, but this development was rescheduled for Nov 25. The Armenians currently fleeing Kalbajar are burning their homes and properties that they cannot evacuate. If the control over Agdam and Kalbajar is transferred to Azerbaijan without major incidents, Lachin will become the next district that will face this fate. Nonetheless, the Lachin corridor linking Armenia with Stepanakert and other Karabakh territories that will remain in the hands of the Armenians will be secured by the Russian peacekeeping force. Currently, the Russian military has 23 checkpoints in the conflict zone. The Lachin-Stepanakert road was reopened and over 1235 displaced civilians have returned to Stepanakert.

Contrary to the situation within districts that would be transferred to the Azerbaijani forces, Armenians do not flee the areas that will remain in the zone of responsibility of the Russians. Instead, many people that fled the conflict have opted to return their homes. Nonetheless, the local humanitarian crisis can hardly be avoided. According to the 2015 census, the population of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was about 151k. The conflict reportedly displaced about a half of them, somewhere between 75k to 80k. Even more people are now fleeing districts that are set to be transferred to Azerbaijan under the fear of violence, ethnic cleansing and other kinds of threats from the Azerbaijani forces and authorities. A part of the displaced people is now returning to Stepanakert and other nearby areas under Russian protection. However, even in the best case, the Armenian state will still have to deal with tens of thousands of displaced people in its territory. Yerevan already announced some financial help and economic support to these people, but the situation in Karabkah itself also requires attention. So far, the only side conducting humanitarian actions there has been Russia that created a special humanitarian center for this purpose. The coming weeks will demonstrate the ability of the sides to compel each other to the reached ceasefire accords and, in the event of their implementation, a sufficient level of peace and security will finally be achieved in the region.

Russian Peacekeeping Forces Completed Deployment In Nagorno-Karabakh. Putin Sums Up The Results
South Front, Nov 20 2020

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu announced the completion of the deployment of units of Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Putin has praised the work of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, describing it as “clear and well-coordinated.” During a meeting on a situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Putin said the deployment of 15th brigade in the region made it possible to stop the bloodshed as well as to demine the roads and restore communications. The Russian President stressed that the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is of a special importance for Russia, saying during the meeting, which was held on Nov 20:

For us, for Russia, conflicts of this kind and their settlement are of particular value and special significance, play a special role. Humanitarian efforts should benefit both the Armenia and Azerbaijan. I want to emphasize the importance of protecting historical monuments and religious sites of of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. I believe that UNESCO’s involvement is in great demand here. We also count on UNICEF’s help to children and adolescents, who are especially vulnerable to the horrors of military conflicts. Russian peacekeepers should establish contact with Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Karabakh in order to prevent conflicts on domestic grounds. Russian interagency delegations will travel to Baku and Yerevan to discuss the most pressing issues of the implementation of the trilateral agreements on Karabakh. The Russians effectively control the ceasefire. The situation in the region is calm.

Meanwhile, the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov stated that additional units of the Border service of the FSB of Russia will be located on the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are showing commitment to the Russian-brokered peace deal, which is being implemented without any major delays. Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh are monitoring the process.

Transcaucasia’s “Russian Roulette”: Who Blames Who And Where Is It Coming From?
South Front, NOv 20 2020

Both sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh War appear to be dissatisfied with the outcome. Armenia’s point of view is obvious. Pashinyan and others grossly mismanagement the situation, failed to effectively use their forces, and lost quite a bit of ground in Karabakh, to the benefit of Azerbaijan. And those gains appear to have been set in stone now, for at least 5 years, while Russian peacekeepers are present. As such, the protests in Armenia are no surprise. The calls for a resignation from Pashinyan are also understandable. However, he refuses to resign and is also replacing individuals on high posts. Other ministers and officials are resigning. Pashinyan maintains that it is not the time for protests nor resignations. He’s blaming everybody else for the failures: the army, the old leadership, Russia, the people themselves, the Armenians abroad who didn’t return to enlist and fight in a war. The only one not to blame is himself. Protests are ongoing in Armenia, and now there are even those protesters, and especially media figures who are pushing a separate narrative: Russia betrayed Armenia. Years of anti-Russian policy and protests calling for “Russians to go home” are now forgotten, Moscow should have come to pick the slack for a region that’s neither officially recognized as part of Armenia, nor as an independent republic, despite the Artsakh project. Armenians themselves refused to go to the front-line and fight, but expected the Russians to do so.

They present the situation as an unconditional surrender, which it isn’t. And it is simple why: Azerbaijan only received what it was supposed to get under the previous Minsk agreements plus the city of Shusha. It could have captured much more if Russia hadn’t stepped in to mediate. Putin even said that Russia was not called to help, until it was too late, otherwise it would have done so. According to the media figures, and some protesters, Armenia should go to war with Azerbaijan, while the Russian peacekeepers are there, in an attempt to force their hand and hope that this time, Moscow would choose the right side and do the heavy lifting in capturing back the region. It is quite obvious how unlikely that is. Arrests are taking place of opposition figures, and even simple protesters. The video below shows one such arrest of an individual protesting against Pashinyan. It should be remembered that prior to his ascension to Prime Minister, he was also arrested for organizing protests during the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018.

Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan there were recent protests claiming that Baku actually surrendered to Russia, and that Azerbaijan’s “total victory” was stolen by Moscow. That’s not too far from the truth, since Baku simply got what it had to get under the Minsk agreements, and one city on top of that. Aliyev presented it as a significant victory of Azerbaijan and Turkey against Europe and the collective West, but it was simply using an armed offensive to get what was politically already agreed upon. Anti-Russian rallies were held in Baku, demanding the withdrawal of Russians from Azerbaijan:

Let the Russian army leave Azerbaijan! Turkey come to our aid! Putin, go home!

People with Turkish, Pakistani and Ukrainian flags staged a protest in Baku. The police are quietly watching. This happens in Azerbaijan, where not a single rally takes place without the approval of the authorities. If the protest is not allowed, individuals would be harshly met by authorities and detained, as is the common practice. Finally, on Nov 18, the director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin said that some Western countries are trying to foment the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in order to oust Russia from the Transcaucasus. Naryshkin said:

According to the information we have, some Western countries, through the available channels, provoke Armenian and Azerbaijani nationalists to discredit and break the ceasefire agreement. They are trying to convince the inhabitants of Armenia that peace in Nagorno-Karabakh is a defeat for Yerevan. The ideology of waging war to the bitter end is being promoted. In Azerbaijan, they are spreading the idea that Moscow prevented Baku from winning when the Azerbaijani army had almost reached Stepanakert. The US and its allies are annoyed that the war was stopped with the mediation of Moscow. After all, in fact, this “nullified” their many years of work to oust Russia from Transcaucasia. This behavior of the West once again demonstrates the desire of the US and European states to solve their problems at the expense of the interests of ordinary people. The Americans and Europeans do not think that provocations can lead to the development of a military conflict.

Earlier, on Nov 17, it was reported that Pompeo and Le Drian noted during negotiations in Paris that they wanted more clarity from Moscow about Turkey’s role in ending hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as about the terms of the agreement. As such, the stage appears set, and a potential flaring up is possible, in an attempt to blame Russia for aggression, or meddling, or simply pulling it into a conflict of some sort. Time will tell, but it appears that chaos is obviously brewing in Armenia, but could also be coming to Azerbaijan.

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