Russian Base Casts Long Shadow on Armenia, Turkey

The threat of war continues to loom on Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s border. The battle in the Tavush region of Armenia was only one episode which may very well be followed by others. The Armenian side is cognizant of the fact that it should not yet rest on its laurels.

Armenia proved the battle-readiness of its armed forces. But to what extent? President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has characterized Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s victory against Azerbaijan as a թ§Չ‚-ժ“punch well beyond its capacity,թ§Չ‚-Թ which in strategic terms may be interpreted as the victory by Armenia being the result of tactical assistance from its strategic ally, Russia.

In todayթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s wars, drones have expanded the surveillance scope of armies. In this particular battle, the Azerbaijani army, which had boasted of its state-of-the-art military hardware, failed to deploy them properly and thus the Armenian side downed 13 of their drones, in addition to inflicting other critical losses.

Wars now rely more and more on advanced technology both for weapons and surveillance systems, including satellite imaging, which is beyond Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s reach. This is where an allyթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s assistance can make the ultimate difference, and most probably this is what Erdogan was talking about.

From July 29 to August 10, the joint forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey are participating in war games on Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s borders, as well as in Baku, Ganja, Erlakh and Nakhichevan, in a very demonstrative way, using live ammunition.

People in Armenia claim to have spotted Turkish warplanes within striking distance of Yerevan. Although the news was refuted by government sources, the intent of the Turkish side to scare Armenia is plain to see.

Political analyst Hagop Badalyan very stoically advises people in Armenia to learn to live with the Turkish threat of war but not to be intimidated.

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan is back to his bellicose mood, after his defeat in Tavush. He has refused out of hand the seven points proposed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and has called on Yerevan to withdraw its armed forces from Karabakh immediately, թ§Չ‚-ժ“before itթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s too late.թ§Չ‚-Թ

Answering that threat, Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s Defense Minister David Tonoyan has asked the rhetorical question as to թ§Չ‚-ժ“when would it be too late as our armed forces are ready and waiting for the order.թ§Չ‚-Թ

While this heated rhetoric is being spouted by all parties, tanks are pulling up on Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s borders and warplanes are flying over them, raising the question as to whether Turkey will attack Armenia.

Russia has taken Turkeyթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s moves very seriously and it has advanced the date of its own war games, which were planned for September. It has been exercising currently on Azerbaijanթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s borders, with the participation of 150,000 soldiers and nuclear warheads as a direct warning to Turkeyթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s moves.

On July 28, Defense Minister Tonoyan announced that Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s armed forces have been put on high alert and that the Russian-Armenian military contingent is թ§Չ‚-ժ“continuing consistently to monitor and analyzeթ§Չ‚-Թ Turkish-Azerbaijani military activities թ§Չ‚-ժ“with all reconnaissance meansթ§Չ‚-Թ at its disposal.

On the sidelines, however, a diplomatic charade is taking place. Despite its aggressive moves and stern threats, Ankara is trying to camouflage its intentions through diplomatic moves. First, Ibrahim Kalin, President Erdoganթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s spokesman, indicated that Turkey is in Nakhichevan to support its ally Azerbaijan and assured the public that Ankaraթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s moves do not intend to harm its relations with Moscow.

In his turn, President Erdogan has taken the initiative to call President Vladimir Putin. During their conversation Putin թ§Չ‚-ժ“has stressed the importance of preventing any steps that could cause an escalation in tensions.թ§Չ‚-Թ

Once again, the issue of the Russian military base in Gyumri has become a topic of public discussion. Many anti-Russian politicians underestimate the significance of that base. Analysts like Levon Shirinyan and Armenian Parliament members like Arman Babajanyan and pundits like Varoujan Avetissyan (Sasna Tserer) and Tigran Zmalyan (European Party) are adamantly against the base. They try to suggest that Russia has set that base on Armenian territory թ§Չ‚-ժ“to enslave us.թ§Չ‚-Թ

However, they do not offer any alternative in case Armenia faces an existential threat.

Granted, the base may be self-serving for Russia to maintain its influence in the Caucasus region. In the meantime, it is a deterrent against any Turkish threat. To defend its military base Moscow has to defend Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s territory.

In politics, there has to be a confluence of interests so that a major power is motivated to defend the weaker power. There is no free lunch.

In a recent interview, the director of a political and military analytical center in Russia, Alexander Khramchikhin, confirmed the fact that the Russian base in Armenia is intended to contain Turkey: թ§Չ‚-ժ“If a war breaks out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I am not sure what position Russia may take,թ§Չ‚-Թ the analyst stated. թ§Չ‚-ժ“But if the war takes place in Karabakh, I know for sure that Russia will not intervene. I repeat, the base is there to contain Turkey. The base is part of Russiaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s geostrategic posture. Therefore, it is meant to stop Turkey, the foreign intruder in the region.թ§Չ‚-Թ

Mr. Khramchikhin also believes that Turkey has introduced its forces into Azerbaijan to pressure Armenia psychologically. But he believes that Turkey at this time թ§Չ‚-ժ“cannot invade Armenia, because it will be stretching its resources too far, as it is mired in many other conflicts.թ§Չ‚-Թ

We wished that it were true. Turkeyթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s involvement in many conflicts defines its behavior pattern. Either it foments a crisis to intervene, like it did in Syria, or it takes advantage of destabilized regions, like Iraq and Libya to expand its empire.

Following that logic, we cannot rule out the possibility that Ankara precipitated the recent crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan to begin implementing one of its long held dreams.

Strategically, Armenia is at the mercy of enemy forces; Turkish armed forces are in mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, which does not have a common border with the mainland, but has a narrow border with Turkey, acquired after a land swap with Iran in 1932.

Armenian forces are no match for Turkey. Armenia must avoid any direct confrontation with the Turkish army. But Yerevan has other sources that it can use in diplomatic forums.

Recently, Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s representative Armen Babikyan raised the issue in Energy Intelligence, a publication of the International Atomic Agency, of Azerbaijanթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s threat to bomb its nuclear power plant, Metsamor. On July 27, the issue was discussed at a Vienna conference, which characterized the threat as an act of state terrorism against Armenia.

Armenia has not weaponized its strongest argument, the fact of genocide. Only after some timid references by Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan did Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s Ambassador to Latvia Tigran Mkrtchyan issue a strongly-worded statement that Armenians will not tolerate a second genocide.

Jews and Israel shout from the rooftops about the Holocaust they have suffered. We can emulate them and try to score some political points.

What makes everything even worse is that during this current situation, there is polarization in Armenia. Any responsible and rational leadership would seek internal stability, to withstand the threats.

The opposition and the government are equally responsible for the ongoing divide in Armenia: the first for its irresponsible and destabilizing rhetoric, and the latter for its witch hunt in rounding up perceived enemies.

Armenia needs calm, de-escalation and unity. That will not be offered by Russia nor any other outside force. It is in the hands of the leadership to steer the county toward calmer waters.

Edmond Y. Azadian

Edmond Y. AzadianSenior editorial columnist EDMOND Y. AZADIAN is Advisor to the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum in Detroit, Michigan; Advisor from the Diaspora to the Ministry of Culture in Armenia; member of the Republic of Armeniaթ§Չ‚-Չ„§s Academy of Sciences. He served as assistant editor of the Armenian daily Zartonk and editor-in-chief of the daily Arev in Cairo, Egypt. He is a leader of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party. Azadian has authored several books in Armenian and English, including Portraits and Profiles, Observations and Criticisms, and History on the Move; edited more than 21 books; and published over 1500 articles, book reviews, and essays in daily newspapers and literary magazines. His latest publication, a bilingual one, is dedicated to the famous Armenian poet, Vahan Tekeyan. He has been associated with the Mirror-Spectator for the last 45 years.

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