south front for dec 4

Azerbaijan Reschedules ‘Victory Day’ To Please Sultan Erdogan. Hezbollah Drone Buzzes Israeli Forces
South Front, Dec 4 2020

An unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Lebanese Hezbollah managed to cross into Israel’s north and monitor the Israeli military drills dubbed “Lethal Arrow”, Lebanese media affiliated with Hezbollah reported on Dec 3. The incident allegedly took place on Nov 26, on the second day of the drills. The Israeli side promoted the drill as an exercise to put to the test a strategy based on network-centered warfare bringing together the capabilities of ground, air, naval and cyber forces to quickly eliminate hostile targets in the event of the conflict in the area. The Hezbollah drone buzzed Israeli forces just during these military exercises. Additionally, on Dec 3, the Israeli government urged its citizens to avoid travel to the UAE and Bahrain, citing threats of Iranian attacks. At the same time, the US and its allies continue demonstrating concerns regarding possible attacks in Iraq in the wake of an expected Iranian retaliation to the assassination of its top nuclear scientist near Tehran in an alleged US-Israeli plot. According to media reports, following the earlier move of the US, France and Spain are also considering at least partial withdrawal of diplomatic staff from Iraq. US officials speculate that Iranian-backed factions of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, an official branch of the Iraqi military, are preparing attacks on facilities and personnel of the US diplomatic mission.

Meanwhile, in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan for the first time released an official number of its casualties in the Second Nagorno-Karabkah War. According to the defense ministry, 2783 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed, 1245 were injured and over 100 are still missing. In own turn, the Health Ministry of Armenia reported that at least 2718 Armenian soldiers were killed as a result of the conflict. The almost equal casualties of the advancing and defending forces in the standoff in such a complex mountainous area as Nagorno-Karabkah is another factual demonstration of the overwhelming Azerbaijani dominance in the manpower, and firepower, including heavy military equipment, artillery and air support in the 6-week conflict with the Armenians. Azerbaijan, however, seems to have already started paying price of its sovereignty for the Turkish support in the war. On Dec 2, Pres Aliyev declared the establishment of the new national holiday ‘Victory Day’ in Azerbaijan. The holiday scheduled for Nov 10 was dedicated to the start of the implementation of the peace agreements in Karabakh, under which Armenian forces in fact accepted their defeat and agreed to withdraw from Agdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts. However, a day later Baku was reminded by Ankara that Nov 10 is the Day of Remembrance of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. So, on Dec 3, the presidential administration of Azerbaijan changed its order and rescheduled the Azerbaijani national holiday for Nov 8. Let’s hope the Big Neo-Ottoman Brother is now satisfied. In other case, the Azerbaijani leadership will have to reschedule a few more national holidays and rename ministries to please it.

Second Karabakh-War Reshapes Transport Corridors In South Caucasus
South Front, Dec 4 2020

The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War not only led to a shift of the military political balance of power in the South Caucasus, but the agreements reached to put an end to it would potentially greatly reshape transport links, and thus freight and passenger flows in the region. The deployment of Russian peacekeepers to Azerbaijan, the growth of Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation and the decline of the project of the Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are reactivating several strategic directions that have been inactive for almost 30 years and regional players are now publicly declaring plans regarding the creation of new economic corridors. For the first time since independence, Armenia will have to conduct work on boundary settlement, including the creation of official border crossings. Until recently, the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in the Karabakh region did not in fact exist and the Armenian government used the area as a kind of buffer zone. This cannot remain unchanged since Azerbaijan has gained districts bordering Armenia. Just recently, the vague reaction of the Armenian government to Azerbaijani troops entering the Sotk gold mine located just on the border between both states demonstrates the scale of the problem.

At the same time, the Lachin corridor, which links Armenia with what is left of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, remains under the control of Russian troops which provide security to civilians moving along it. However, the situation here is also complex. Since Azerbaijani forces captured Shusha, the road linking Stepanakert with Lachin partially passes through the zone of control of the Azerbaijani military. In future, as the reached agreements say, there is a plan for an alternative route that would by-pass Shusha. The situation with the southern transport corridor between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic is also curious. Under the agreed deal, it is supposed to be unlocked under the control of the Border Service of the Russian FSB. There is not only an automobile road, but also a railway passes along the border in the south. This corridor was abandoned as a result of the First Nagorno-Karabkah War. Gradually, Armenia dismantled its parts of the railway, but Azerbaijan kept them up to Horadiz in the east, and within the Nakhichevan enclave.

In their turn, Iran, taking advantage of the years of anarchy in this “no-man’s” buffer territory, quietly built the Khudaferin hydroelectric power station and flooded about 15 km of the dismantled railway. The original landscape was seriously changed. This makes the restoration of the railway much more difficult and a part of it, after the flooding, will likely have to be created in a rock tunnel. By the way, the location of the Khudaferin hydroelectric power station by itself also changed the possible route of any potential railway. In these conditions, the restoration of the railway in the area would require significant investment and work and on top of this would require a significant amount of time. Turkey, a traditional Azerbaijani ally, would be happy to take advantage of the unblocking of transport links. Ankara has a long ago announced plan of construction of a railway to Nakhichevan and this project is being reactivated. Turkey has a relatively weak railway network in its east and even the capacity of the corridor to Iran is limited by the ferry through the Van lake. Thus, the creation of a railway link to Nakhichevan would boost not only Azerbaijani-Turkish economic ties and guarantee the ground link between Azerbaijan and Turkey, but would also increase the economic potential of the east of Turkey.

Apologists for the current Armenian government speculate that the defeat in the war and the loss of Karabakh, which is now de facto under the control of the Russians, in fact plays into the hands of the Armenians. Now, they will allegedly be able to de-escalate their relations with Azerbaijan, enter joint economic projects with it and even trade with Iran through Nakhichevan. These versions are from the same group of fairy tales that came up with a Euro-Atlantic rescue rangers team that would be compelled to protect Armenian forces in Karabakh in the event of an Azerbaijani attack because modern Armenia has a very ‘democratic’ and ‘European-oriented’ government. As might have been expected, this did not happen. Dreams about some mysterious European integration, also widely fueled by international funds and the group of traitors sitting in Armenian top offices are also hardly likely to be turned into reality. Nonetheless, if Armenia keeps its current course, it will have the opportunity to sell off the remaining vestiges of its territories and sovereignty and to turn itself into a kind of outpost for globalists and NATO in the Southern Caucasus. The only difficulty would be that together with this Armenia would likely have to surrender its south to please one well-known NATO member state led by the Neo-Ottoman-styled President.

In theory, the unblocking of transport corridors should allow to intensify economic life in the South Caucasus and to create new opportunities for the restoration of the region after years of conflict. However, in practice, the implementation of these projects would require much time and would face significant difficulties growing from the remaining tensions among the sides involved.

Trump Administration Fights Iran In Middle East As Qods Force Expands In US Backyard
South Front, Dec 3 2020

The US and Israel are preparing for even more military action against Iran following the assassination of prominent nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in the countryside of Tehran last week. The IDF and the US have already stepped up coordination mechanisms to react to what Israeli media likes to call ‘non-motivated aggression’ by Iran. The accepted measures reportedly include procedures for joint detection of missile or rocket fire at Israeli or American targets. Israeli sources claim that Iran will respond to the attack, which took place near Tehran, most likely in some asymmetrical way, by the end of December.

In another sign of the coming escalation, the White House is partially withdrawing staff from the embassy in Baghdad and other diplomatic facilities in Iraq. Dozens of diplomats and specialists have already left Iraq, according to US media. It should be noted that on Jan 3 2020, when a US drone strike assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport, US military bases in Iraq became targets of an Iranian ballistic missile strike. Taking into account the tendency of the Iranian leadership and the Axis of Resistance in general towards a symbolic move, Iranian-led forces may opt to align their retaliation moves with the anniversary of the killing of Soleimani.

At the same time, the Trump administration is trying to do whatever possible, as long as Trump in the White House, to rescue Saudi Arabia, the key ally of the US-Israeli bloc, from a total defeat in the Yemeni war. On Dec 2, the State Dept approved a possible $350m deal to continue providing security support services to Saudi Arabia. The ‘technical and advisory’ assistance mission in the Kingdom under this deal requires the permanent assignment of approximately 330 service members and specialists. A previous deal of this kind was reached in 2016, but this did not help the Kingdom to deal with its failing military adventure in Yemen. Instead, the situation only deteriorated, and the Houthis are now regularly launching drones and missiles at key Saudi military and infrastructure objects. Therefore, it is unlikely that the $350m mission would be able to advise the Kingdom how to reverse this trend.

Another front-line of the restless US efforts against Iran is Venezuela, which Washington calls its own backyard. According to recent claims by the Pentagon, Iran is now actively sending weapons and deploying personnel of the elite Quds Force to the country. The year 2020 is slowly coming to its end, but it seems that there is enough time for President Trump to launch a ‘little victorious war’ with Iran before leaving the White House. The only potential problem is the price that the US nation would have to pay for Mr Trump’s goal of gaining new fans in Israel.

OSCE Minsk Group Asked Withdrawal Of All Mercenaries From Karabakh
South Front, Dec 3 2020

The Co-Chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group have called for the withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in an official statement released on Dec 3. The OSCE Minsk Group was formed by Russia, France and the US in 1992 to encourage Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach a peaceful settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh. In the new statement, the OSCE Minsk Group stressed its support for the peace deal brokered by Russia on Nov 9. The deal put an end to an large-scale Azerbaijani attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. The group called upon Armenia and Azerbaijan to fully implement their obligations under the Russian-brokered deal to stabilize the region. Their statement reads:

The Co-Chair countries highlight the significance of measures taken by the Russian Federation, in agreement with Azerbaijan and Armenia, to guarantee the non-renewal of hostilities. They also call for the full and prompt departure from the region of all foreign mercenaries, and call upon all parties to facilitate this departure. They call for an exchange of prisoners, repatriation of remains and facilitation of the return of all refugees to Nagorno-Karabakh. The Co-Chair countries urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to take advantage of the current ceasefire to negotiate a lasting and sustainable peace agreement under the auspices of the Co-Chairs.

Many ethnic Armenians of different nationalists volunteered to fight with the Armenian military in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, more than 2k Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, including a number of radicals, fought on Azerbaijan’s side in exchange for money. The presence of Syrian mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh will not destabilize the region only but the entire Caucasus. Recent reports revealed that Azerbaijan is departing the mercenaries, despite Turkish plans to settle them there.

Azerbaijan Is Forced To Change Date Of ‘Victory Day’ Holliday To Please Big Ottoman Brother
South Front, Dec 3 2020

Azerbaijan has moved its newly-announced “Victory Day” that is supposed to mark the victory over Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Nov 8. Initially, an executive order by President Aliyev said the nationwide holiday will be celebrated on Nov 10 of every year. In a statement, the Presidential Administration said Victory Day date was moved to Nov 8 because Nov 10 is the Day of Remembrance of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. The statement released on Dec 3 reads:

Taking into account that the Day of Remembrance of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is celebrated in Turkey on Nov 10, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made a decision to change the date of Victory Day.

The holiday is meant to celebrate the “victory” over Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani attack on the region, which started on Sep 27, ended on Nov 10 with a Russian-brokered peace deal. The Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan said Nov 8 was selected as the new Victory Day, because it marks the “liberation” of the town of Shusha. It said:

The liberation of the city of Shusha, dear to every Azerbaijani, the pearl of Karabakh, after 28 years of occupation on Nov 8 played a decisive role in the fate of the war, led to the recognition of the defeat of the enemy’s political and military leadership and the cessation of the hostilities.

Azerbaijan also established a “Day of Remembrance” to commemorate service members and civilians who were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh battle on Sep 27 of every year. Turkey played a key role in Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Baku with advanced combat drones and hundreds of Syrian mercenaries. Erdogan is set to make his first to Azerbaijan after the peace deal on Dec 9-10, and meet with President Aliyev. He will also attend a military parade in Baku to celebrate the “victory” in Karabakh.

Military Situation In Nagorno-Karabakh
South Front, Dec 3 2020

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

  • On Dec 2, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey, Russia agreed to build an observation center in Nagorno-Karabakh to oversee the Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal;
  • On Dec 2, 1479 displaced persons have returned from Yerevan to Stepanakert with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers;
  • As of Dec 3, Russia reported that more than 38 hectares of land and about 12 km of roads were cleared from mines and IEDs and 1,100 explosive objects were found and destroyed;
  • As of Dec 3, around 1250 mines have been dismantled in Kalbajar District since the arrival of Azerbaijani forces in the area, according to Azerbaijani sources;
  • On Dec 3, Defense Minister of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov met with the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan Said Nearly 2,800 Soldiers Killed In Nagorno-Karabakh War
South Front, Dec 3 2020

On Dec 3, Azerbaijan said that nearly 2,800 of its soldiers were killed in the recent battle with Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan said in an official statement:

2,783 servicemen of the Azerbaijani armed forces were killed in the patriotic war. Over 100 Azerbaijani soldiers are still missing. At least 1,245 soldiers were wounded in battle.

The Azerbaijani MoD had until now not disclosed any of its losses in the battle, which started on Sep 27. The battle ended on Nov 10 with a Russian-brokered peace deal that saw Armenia agreeing to a gradual withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian Karabakh records documented the names of more than 1,100 Azerbaijani officers and soldiers killed before Oct 28. The Ministry of Defense of Armenia has not disclosed the final death toll for its forces, thus far. However, the country’s Health Ministry revealed on November 14 that 2,317 Armenian service members were killed in the battle for Nagorno-Karabakh. The heated battle also claimed the lives of dozens of civilians. 54 Armenians and 91 Azerbaijani were reportedly killed in the battle. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan worked hard to hide their losses. Russia claimed in late October that around 5k people were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh battle. The Russian estimate appears to be on point.

Self-Sabotage, Chaos And Failed Planning As Factors Of Armenia’s Defeat
South Front, Dec 3 2020

Mass protests against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan are continuing in Armenia. People blame him for actually accepting the Azerbaijani conditions for ending the war in Karabakh. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh, which began early in the morning of Sep 27, ended 44 days later with the actual defeat of Armenia. In the late night of Nov 10, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed an agreement according to which the Armenian side transfers to Azerbaijan the territories it took under its control almost thirty years ago, the territories of seven regions adjacent to the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, as well as the cities of Shusha, Hadrut and a number of other villages. The most intense discussions in Armenia and its diaspora abroad are around the surrender of Shusha. The city is located on the highway connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The same picture is observed for several kilometers in the direction of Lachin, after Shusha: signs of fighting, heavy one. It is obvious that the Azerbaijani army carried out a large-scale offensive here and met with resistance along the entire line. It was after the fall of the strategically important city of Shusha that Yerevan decided that it was no longer able to continue the war.

The disputes over the surrender of Shushi have escalated even more after President Putin announced that on Oct 19-20, Pashinyan was offered to transfer part of the territory, but at the same time preserve Shusha. The condition was the return to the city of Azerbaijani refugees who left the city in the first war. Yerevan did not agree to this, because until 1992 Azerbaijanis accounted for up to 90% of the population of Shusha and because it was not clear how to ensure the safety of the Armenians living there. In addition, according to the agreement, if it had been concluded then, the Azerbaijani refugees would have to return to other Armenian regions of Karabakh, and here the issue of security would also be raised. On Nov 7, forward defensive troops received an order to withdraw from the village of Karin so, lying at the foot of the rock on which Shusha stands, to the city itself. On Nov 9, the soldiers were ordered to leave it too. At that time the Azerbaijani troops were already in the city.

The Azerbaijani army marched towards Shusho from the village of Avetaranots. After that, the attacking group split up: some entered along the road from Karin, the others from the east through the gorge. When soldiers were ordered to retreat, many were in the suburbs where the fighting was going on. According to soldiers who were present, they had no problems with equipment, including night vision devices. Another thing is ordinary soldiers in positions. In the Martakert direction, absolute darkness falls at night. On the approaches to the trenches with dugouts, covered with a simple tree, they scattered everything that crackles loudly, in the trenches themselves, bundles of empty cans. This is incredibly poor, and Azerbaijan’s drone usage made the Armenian and Artsakh soldiers exquisitely easy to spot. Azerbaijan did not have enough strength to hold Shusha for a long time, said Armenian military expert Karen Vrtanesyan, who said:

If there were normal planning and management of the operation, then in principle it would have been possible to keep or recapture Shusha. Due to the landscape, the supply of Azerbaijani troops in the Shusha direction is a difficult task. It was supposed to pass through the village of Avetaranots, and then through the mountains. Even almost three weeks after the end of the war, Azerbaijan uses a section of the Lachin-Shushi road controlled by the Armenians to supply the city. On this section of the road, there are even cars with both Armenian and Azerbaijani numbers. It is completely incomprehensible why this road, which could have been blocked by small forces, was never cut off. Why wasn’t enough force deployed there? You cannot take Shusha, you can only surrender it … We are not bad fighters. We were simply handed over.

The last remark was delivered after a pause, as if making excuses. According to open-source data, the armies of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh before the start of the conflict lagged behind Azerbaijan in terms of the number of heavy ground equipment, tanks, artillery and manpower. However, this gap cannot be called critical, given that they had to act on the defensive. According to the reference book of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Military Balance for 2019, the number of the NKR defense army totaled 18k to 20k. It had about 200-300 T-72 tanks and about the same amount of artillery. The NKR has always been actively supported by the Armenian army, so it is not clear what share of this equipment were Armenian. In 2019, the Armenian army numbered 44.8k including conscripts, and had a mobilization reserve of about 220k. The country had at least 109 tanks. Most of them are T-72, the rest are more ancient. There was also one T-90, which won at Alabino in the 2014 tank biathlon competition. The number of the Azerbaijani army is 66 950 people (ground forces, air force, navy), the mobilization reserve is about 300k people. Baku had at least 439 tanks, of which at least 100 T-90s, but the majority (244 units) were T-72s. The artillery of Armenia consisted of at least 232 pieces of equipment, including 38 self-propelled guns (122-mm “Carnations” and 152-mm “Acat”), 131 howitzers (based on the D-20 and D-30 cannons, as well as “Hyacinth-B”) and 63 MLRS installations, including 47 Grad and at least six Smerch, as well as several Chinese WM-80s.

Baku, according to the Military Balance, had at least 598 units of artillery equipment, including 96 self-propelled guns (the basis is also made up of Carnations and Acats, but there were also Czech M-77 Dana, as well as Israeli ATMOS 2000), 207 howitzers and MLRS, including more than 60 “Grad”, at least 18 “Solntsepek” and 30 “Smerch”. Also, in service were several Belarusian “Rysy”, “Polonez” and at least 21 “Kasyrga”. There were also Czech RM-70 “Vampir” and Croatian RAC-12. In addition, at least 16 missile systems were in service with Armenia: eight Elbrus, four Tochka, and four Iskander. Armenia is the only country, apart from Russia, which has Iskanders. Azerbaijan is armed with Tochka missile systems and Israeli LORA operational-tactical missiles. Obviously using an Iskander ballistic missile was out of the question, unless the situation was much more critical than it was. Vasily Kashin, head of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, says:

Regardless of all of this, the most important element of modern warfare is intelligence, and here was the main advantage of Azerbaijan. You can have parity in the number of artillery units, in heavy ground equipment, tanks, but the potential is determined not by the number of barrels but by the effectiveness of reconnaissance. In addition, the data does not reflect the country’s equipment with modern ammunition. You have the same MLRS or guns of the Cold War, but one side has modern types of corrected ammunition, and the other does not. The role of attack drones like the Bayraktar TB2 in this war is greatly exaggerated, because the main means of inflicting casualties was artillery, which was helped by reconnaissance. Armenia is the leader in the region in the field of information technology, and in theory it should have had effective technical and cyber intelligence. The Azerbaijanis were apparently afraid of this and did a great job with social networks and to maintain discipline. But the Armenians clearly had a very poor idea of ​​the location of the Azerbaijani military facilities. This can be seen because even the means of heavy MLRS, which they had, were not used at full range. Armenia was ineffective in the area of ​​air defense.

The entire defense was represented by some kind of separate foci, and moreover outdated types of equipment like the Wasp. Since the days of the Vietnam War, constant maneuvers and quick withdrawal from positions immediately after firing have become the key to the survival of air defense systems. But, apparently, there was also a problem with the management of those meager forces that the Armenians possessed. On the whole, it seems to me, they did not delve into the experience of armed conflicts in recent decades. Baku pursued a much more meaningful procurement policy in the field of weapons. The Armenians had a good potential in the field of creating their own drones and electronic warfare systems, but instead, money was spent on meaningless things, for example for the purchase of Su-30M, which were not even used in this conflict, and the purchase of several dozen Osa air defense systems from Jordan. As a result, Azerbaijan, whose budget was 3 to 5 times larger than the Armenian budget over the past few years, purposefully and continuously prepared for this war, attracting supplier countries Russia, Israel, Turkey, and carefully studying the experience of recent conflicts. The fact that the Armenians did not have money is not so bad. Careful strategic planning would have compensated for inequality, but they didn’t have that either.

Armenia’s loss was largely due to systemic problems. On Nov 19, the head of the Military Control Service of the Armenian Defense Ministry, Col-Gen Movses Hakobyan gave a press conference, where he made several sensational statements, the most important of which was that during the war, the country was not fully mobilized, although martial law was declared in Armenia at the very first day of conflict. He said:

The head of state stopped the reinforcement. The Prime Minister of the country issued an order to stop the reinforcement and instead send volunteers to the front line on the third day of the war. Many of the volunteers were killed, and about 1,500 fled in panic. They were isolated in Karabakh so that they would not return and cause panic in Armenia. As a result, by Sep 30, Karabakh fulfilled the plan of reinforcement by 78%, and Armenia by 52%, although this plan should have been carried out within 40 hours, and from here further problems arose.

Armenian Military expert Karen Vrtanesyan said:

The main mistake of the Armenian side, and it was made at the highest level, is the initial disposition for a short war. Those actions and those messages that the state sent, everything testified to this. The normal mobilization never took place. So far, no one has denied what Movses Hakobyan said. Even a retreat to new frontiers, which could have been carried out effectively and with the preservation of manpower and equipment, was not carried out, because in the first days of the war there was a feeling that it would not be long. The second reason for the defeat was the complete unpreparedness of the state apparatus for the military situation. In 2015, very serious large-scale exercises were held during which the entire state apparatus was involved, even the scenario of the evacuation of the National Art Gallery was played out. But after Armenia switched to a parliamentary form of government in 2018, the mechanisms for mobilizing the state were not fully worked out. To those who watched carefully, it was clear that there were serious problems in the system of state administration in Armenia, and the new authorities could not cope with them. Another problem was the “personnel leapfrog” and incompetent military command. After the revolution of 2018 and by the time the conflict resumed in Armenia, four heads of the Armed Forces and three chiefs of the General Staff were replaced; in Karabakh, three commanders of the defense army. After the beginning of the war, the “old” and experienced commanders, participants in the first Karabakh war, were not allowed to control the army. All this simply cannot but affect the fighting efficiency of the army.

The fact that the “old” generals were not allowed to command was confirmed by retired major general and veteran of the first war, Vitaly Balasanyan. He said:

They didn’t let me and other experienced commanders in. We could fight. And even to counter-attack, but only one on one with Azerbaijan. Back on Sep 29, we told them that a political solution was needed. The power was incomparable

He listed bad command, almost complete absence of modern weapons, air defense and normal concrete fortifications and betrayal as additional reasons for losing the fight. As a result, Azerbaijan’s forces entered the city of Lachin on Dec 2. Aliyev will likely give another victory speech, even though he gave one when the forces entered Lachin district.

The Russian peacekeepers are also carrying out their activities, clearing mines, guaranteeing the safe return of refugees, and the restore of life such as schools returning to operation. On Dec 3, with the assistance of Russian peacekeeping units, the educational process is being resumed in schools in Nagorno-Karabakh. The bell rang in another school in the city of Stepanakert.

The day before, Russian military personnel had completed mine clearance in the area of secondary school No. 8 in Stepanakert, provided assistance in carrying out repairs in the educational institution, and provided security for the supply of necessary educational equipment.

On Dec 3, military personnel of the International Mine Action Center of the Russian Defence Ministry continue to work on engineering reconnaissance and mine clearance in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers cleared the southern outskirts of the city of Stepanakert of explosive objects. During the mine clearance, about 100 explosive objects were found and neutralized by the sappers on Dec 2 alone.

Chicken Kiev Meets Cold Turkey: Black Sea Axis Emerges?
J Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson, South Front, Dec 2 2020

On the face of it, an alliance between Turkey and Ukraine seems like a rather odd creation, yet one that may surprisingly durable simply because neither country has anywhere else to turn. What practically dooms them to a partnership if not an outright alliance is their unenviable geographic and geopolitical position of occupying the strange “no man’s land” between Russia, NATO, and the Middle East. It is, of course, largely a predicament of their own making. Ukraine, with considerable Western backing and encouragement but nevertheless mostly through efforts of a faction of its own oligarchy, opted out of the Russia-centered network of loose alliances, trade partnerships, and other forms of cooperation that were mutually beneficial to the two in the previous two decades. But that defection was not rewarded by the West in a way the likes of Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk, Avakov, Parubiy, and other architects of the Maidan coup expected. Merely being stridently anti-Russian did not prove enough to warrant a shower of US and European cash, only onerous IMF loans which moreover come with conditions Kiev elites are in no hurry to abide by. EU foreign policy chief Josef Borrel lecturing Kiev that the European Union is not an “ATM machine” delivered that point loud and clear: Kiev is supposed to privatize whatever crown jewels its economy still has (at this point, mainly agricultural land), fight corruption of its own elites and facilitate the corruption of Western elites.

Joseph Robinette Biden Junior is hardly the only Western politician with a talentless son in need of a lucrative sinecure. There are entire Western companies eager to participate in the thinly disguised plunder that the privatization of Ukraine’s economy will inevitably turn into. A Kiev court’s recent decision to declare the country’s anti-corruption institutions that were painstakingly stood up with considerable aid and tutelage from Western governments, down to screening appropriately-minded individuals for the job, looks as if it were calculated to send a middle-finger gesture to Borrel in terms even dense EU bureaucratic hacks will comprehend. Pro-EU newspapers like Kiev Post were quick to label this a “death of democracy”, presumably with the intent of interesting EU and NATO in sponsoring yet another Maidan since last one seems not to be delivering the goods. The expected shower of Western weaponry has not materialized, probably because NATO is afraid to give Ukraine so much aid that it will risk a full-blown war with Russia.

Erdogan’s Turkey, by contrast, is in process of de-facto opting out of NATO, though neither Turkey nor the alliance itself want to take the final step of severing ties completely. NATO membership is still beneficial to Turkey. While the procurement of Russian S-400 air defense systems angered NATO and US in particular, resulting in the expulsion of Turkey from the F-35 program and the cancellation of F-35 sale to the country, evidently Ankara hopes that by nominally remaining in the alliance it limits NATO and EU sanctions that would no doubt be far harsher if it were totally out of the alliance. The hope that Turkey, possibly post-Erdogan, will yet see the error of its ways and return to the fold, prevents NATO from adopting harsher stances that would definitely push Ankara away. Yet the drifting apart is unmistakable, and the animosity between Turkey’s leaders and their Western European counterparts is so intense as to beggar belief. While Germany’s Merkel is careful to tip-toe around the issue due to fear of another wave of refugees as well as unrest among the large Turkish diaspora in Germany, France’s Macron seems to have taken a personal affront to Erdogan’s suggestion he might need a mental evaluation and will press the issue of EU sanctions against Turkey at future Union summits.

But from Turkey’s perspective, getting a cold shoulder from the EU is par for the course. Its own migration to the geopolitical gray zone of Eurasia was motivated by EU’s failure to admit Turkey as a member after decades of leading it by the nose and promising neighborhood in some nebulously distant future right after Hell froze over. Like Ukraine, Turkey was not seeking EU membership because of some mythical “shared values”. It, too, saw EU as an ATM machine that would shower Turkey, one of the poorest countries on the continent, with development assistance and moreover allow Turks to freely travel and work throughout the Union. Needless to say, neither of these prospects appealed to pretty much any European country, no matter how close or distant it was geographically. So after decades of leading Turkey by the nose, EU politely put an end to the charade citing problems with Turkey’s democracy. Thus snubbed, Erdogan opted to chart an independent course and appears to be finding a similarly snubbed oligarch clique in Kiev looking for ways the two countries could extract mutual benefit from their isolated status.

There are plenty of those to be had, as limited as Ukraine’s and Turkey’s resources are, compared to such patrons as EU, NATO, US. Faced with isolation and even a potential ban on arms exports, Turkey has a strong incentive to exploit the resources of the Ukrainian defense industry and engage in some export substitution in case vital supplies are no longer available from the West. Canada’s and Austria’s ban on exports of optronics and engines needed for the Bayraktar TB2 combat drones means Ukraine’s ability to provide substitutes would be most welcome. Ukraine, for its part, would not be against deploying a huge attack drone fleet of its own in the hopes of replicating Azerbaijan’s successful offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh on the Donbass, though there Ukraine’s drones would probably run afoul of Novorossiya’s air defenses in the same way Turkish drones were brought to heel over Idlib. Turkey’s Altay main battle tank is likewise little more than an assembly of components imported from other countries, particularly Germany. Since Germany has already placed a ban on export of powerpacks and transmissions for the Altay, Turkey has been casting about for replacements, looking as far as China. Whether Ukraine’s developments in this realm can be adopted to rescue the Altay project remain to be seen. However, the Oplot powerpacks and transmissions can probably be adapted to Altay use, resulting in Turkey realizing its goal of a home-grown MBT.

Ultimately, the greater the contribution of Ukrainian defense industry to Turkey’s military modernization, the more freedom of action it would bestow on Turkey and make it less dependent on other foreign sources of military hardware who can exert influence over Turkey simply by withholding future technical support. If the United States were to follow up on the F-35 expulsion with a ban on servicing Turkish F-16s which form the mainstay of its airpower, the result would be crippling of the country’s air combat capabilities that drones cannot compensate for and which would be sorely missed in any confrontation with another comparable power like Greece. Turkey’s efforts to develop an indigenous fighter aircraft would benefit from Ukraine’s technological contributions and its own interest in indigenous aircraft designs. For Ukraine, the relationship would be an opportunity to acquire NATO-compatible weaponry with the caveat that it would have to pay in full for every last drone, either with cash or in kind. Turkey’s economic situation is not so strong as to allow largesse in the form of free military aid to anyone.

Mitigating against the long-term development of what Zelensky referred to as “strategic partnership” with Turkey is the erratic behavior of Erdogan who seeks to dominate any and all partners and tries to see how far he can push before the partners push back. This practice has led to the confrontations in Syria, Libya, and eastern Mediterranean. Ukraine, in contrast to Russia, France, and even Greece, is hardly in a position to push back. The most dangerous aspect of Turkish politics, from Ukraine’s perspective, is the ideology of Pan-Turkism that just might transform Ukraine’s Tatar community into a proxy force for Turkey right inside Ukraine, adding yet another fissure to the already fractured political picture. On the plus side, Erdogan does not appear interested in “combating corruption” in Ukraine, though that does not preclude the possibility Turkey’s military collaboration with Ukraine might not cost Ukraine dearly, though not to the same extent as EU-promoted privatization efforts.

Putin Lends His Support To Nikol Pashinyan
South Front, Dec 2 2020

On Dec 2, a meeting of the CSTO Collective Security Council was held via videoconference. The participants discussed international security and the ways to increase the effectiveness of the organization, as well as the strengthening of inter-parliamentary cooperation. Russia holds the organization’s rotating presidency this year, and will hand it over to Tajikistan in 2021. Currently, the CSTO consists of six countries: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Putin said at the CSTO summit:

At present, the trilateral declaration of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan of November 9 is being consistently implemented. Russian peacekeepers are deployed on the line of contact and along the Lachin corridor.

Deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces on Dec 2 2020.Observation posts in the northern and southern zones of responsibility are marked with red triangles.

Putin stressed out the necessity to jointly provide humanitarian aid to the citizens of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. He called on his counterparts to provide assistance in the return of refugees and the restoration of destroyed infrastructure, as well as the protection of historical, religious and cultural sites. In his speech, Putin pointed out great personal courage of Pashinyan that was demonstrated while signing the trilateral ceasefire agreement on Nov 9. Putin said:

He took upon himself this responsibility. And our task is now to support the Prime Minister himself and his team in order to establish a peaceful life, achieve the implementation of all decisions and help people who find themselves in difficult life situation.

Nikol Pashinyan in his speech at the CSTO summit also noted Putin’s personal role in the peace agreement. However, technical problems with the microphone did not allow him to start well. The leader’s exchange of pleasantries took place amid the continuing protests in Armenia, where people continue to require Pashinyan’s resignation. Putin’s support to Pashinyan and his administration seem to mark a significant shift in the relationship between Moscow and Yerevan. During the last years, the current Armenian Prime Minister actively pursued anti-Russian politics and did everything possible to weaken the close ties between Yerevan and Moscow. Even today, when Russian peacekeeping forces assure the stability in Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian political leadership disrespects its Russian counterparts.

Hundreds Of Syrian Mercenaries Have Returned From Karabakh: Monitoring Group
South Front, Dec 2 2020

Hundreds of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have returned from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh where they fought for Azerbaijan, the SOHR reported on Dec 2. According to the London-based monitoring group, Turkish efforts to settle the mercenaries in the region failed. Baku refused to allow Syrians to stay. Last month, several sources revealed a Turkish plan to settle Syrian mercenaries along with their families in Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara reportedly set up offices in the occupied Syrian region of Afrin to facilitate the plan. the SOHR said in its report:

Over 900 fighters of Turkish-backed Syrian factions have returned to Syria in batches, with latest batch arriving in Syria last Thursday. More batches are expected to return in the next hours or days.

The mercenaries who returned to Syria have reportedly received a part of their payment only, with the rest set to be paid within a few days. Around 2,580 Syrian mercenaries, all recruited by Turkey, supported Azerbaijan’s offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh. At least 293 were killed by Armenian forces. Azerbaijan, which used Syrian mercenaries as cannon fodder on Nagorno-Karabakh’s frontlines, is not apparently interested in their services anymore. Many of these mercenaries are known to be radicals, which explains Baku’s rejection of Ankara’s settlement plan.

Azerbaijani Troops Are In Lachin, But Unresolved Karabakh Status Remains Source Of Tensions
South Front, Dec 1 2020

The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been nearing the end of the first phase of the implementation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire deal that started on November 10. Late on November 30, Azerbaijani troops started entering the Lachin district in the Nagorno-Karabkah region. This district is being transferred to Azerbaijani forces as a part of the ceasefire agreement reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan earlier in November. Nonetheless, the Lachin corridor, the road linking Armenia with the remaining territory of the Nagorno-Karabah Republic (Republic of Artsakh) will remain under the control of the Russian peacekeeping forces. Under the aforementioned ceasefire deal, Azerbaijan already established control over the districts of Agdam and Kalbajar. The next step is the restoration of the transport link between the Azerbaijani mainland and Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic as well as the creation of an alternative road between Lachin and Stepanakert that would not pass through the Azerbaijani-controlled area. Another important factor is the status of Karabkah. The Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement signed by the sides did not address this question, and, therefore, it still has to be settled. Baku insists that Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan and all on what the Armenians leaving there can count on is some cultural autonomy.

At the same time, the Armenian leadership, led by Nikol ‘The Basement’ Pashinyan continues its international campaign asking for at least somebody to recognize Nagorno-Karabkah as an independent state because Yerevan itself does not want to do this by itself. Recently, the French Senate adopted a resolution asking the government to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state. This move was presented by Armenia as a large-scale diplomatic victory, while in fact the adopted resolution is non-binding and on an official level France does not recognize the state of Artsakh. And even if it does so, it is unclear how Paris would be able to influence the situation in Karabakh. Even in the hottest days of the Second Nagorno-Karabkah War, France limited its support to the Pashinyan government to diplomatic concerns. Some large-scale French-led sanction campaign against Azerbaijan and Turkey over these questions seems like a scenario mostly existing in the dimension of Armenian fairy tales. In the current conditions, the regional stability in Karabakh is guaranteed by the Russian peacekeepers and the commitment of the sides to the ceasefire regime. Nonetheless, the question of Karabakh’s status remains the important factor in that, in the event of the inability of the sides to come to a comprehensive diplomatic solution making mutual concessions, could once again fuel instability in the South Caucasus.

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