Georgia & the Azerbaijani-Armenian Tensions

The Armenian controlled territory of Nogorno-Karabakh is once again being contested, as Azerbaijani ground and air forces push into the territory. Early morning on September 27, Azeri armor, infantry, and combat air support units began a multi-pronged assault on the already disputed region. After alleging provocation by the Armenian Armed Forces and Armenian-backed Artsakh Defense Army, the two came to blows. Turkey has already begun their campaign of support for the Azerbaijan side. Russia, with its 102nd military base outside the Armenian city of Gyumri, has taken no clear stance to defend its longtime partner. All things considered, Georgia is left in the middle.

As each side goes into its own deliberations, and issues statements accusing the other of starting the aggression, salvos of artillery pound cities and towns, including the capital of the region, Stepanakert. Already, several aircraft and ground armor vehicles are burning. Upon the morning attack, reports of incredibly slow internet or no internet connection were reported all over Azerbaijan. According to inside sources, social media and some internet resources have been shut down or slowed considerably in Armenia too. Even the Ministry of Defense websites for each country were disrupted. On the front, reports of several T-72 series tanks and other disabled combat vehicles burning with the crews inside are being spread, along with accompanying videos, and Martial Law has been declared in some parts of Azerbaijan, in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh. Here’s how Georgia stands to play in this who’s-who of international politics and warfare.

It’s lost on no-one that neither Turkey nor Russia are particularly warm and cuddly with Georgia, and so Georgia will do its level best to stay in the shadows and uninvolved during this time. However, if the conflict rages too long or draws the titans of the Turks and Russians into the fray, something will have to give. Georgia can only stand so close to the heat for so long before catching fire itself.

First is the issue of the Russians. They have long kept a close relationship with the Armenians, but their relationship isn’t so cozy as to initiate military mobilization. Yet. If they engage, they will do so only in a limited capacity, wary of catching the ire of the international community, and especially the Turkish. They may not be a close friend of Ankara, but they are definitely not in a position to seek further hostility, especially considering their current stable yet tenuous footing in Syria.

The Russians are also not keen on the current government in power in Armenia, and a change of that could be beneficial to them. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has thus far sailed a precarious course between friendship with Moscow and a mutual respect with NATO and the West. He’s even gone so far as to rule out overt support from outside players in the new conflict, something which Azerbaijan seems all too keen to take advantage of, with reports increasing in number and veracity of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenary units operating in the combat zone. However, the placement of the Russian military base in Gyumri adds a layer of complexity, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a covert movement of forces, and “humanitarian assistance” to come through Georgian space. Russia is no stranger to such shadowy tactics, as they showed in Eastern Ukraine.

Back in Georgia, as eyes shift south, this is an opportune time for the Russians to further push forward the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) of the occupied territories. Recently, even more intrusions into Georgian territory have taken place, seeing more and more people in the villages that lay adjacent to the ABL in peril of losing their homes and livelihoods. The Georgian ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs should take careful note of this. In addition, if they’re smart, they should take this time to strengthen all of their own territorial positions.

Then there’s the Turkish. Turkey and Georgia have so far enjoyed a relationship of tolerance and a healthy trade connection, and its people generally get along, with both sides enjoying the other’s economic tourism benefits. Turkey, as a NATO member, also has certain obligations in its political and military relations; however, the Azerbaijani factor dilutes this. With Georgia caught in the middle of these two, the pressure to offer at a minimum vocal support of one or the other is clearly there.

Georgian neutrality is of no real concern to Ankara, though. Regardless, the popular movements in each country may be enough to persuade the members of each government to take action. Azeris in Georgia have already taken to public displays of support for their homeland, as have the Armenians; even gathering at the Turkish border to protest in one case. Militarily, Georgia can’t afford to get involved. The people behind the military wouldn’t let that happen, and the outcry if it did would be massive. But material and intelligence support are very different matters. While information about such potential support is far from being revealed, this is a level of involvement that would have the greatest impact on the ongoing conflict. Besides, what goes on behind the scene is often of a greater strategic importance than the tactical maneuvers in the field.

In the meantime, Georgia will continue joining the international community in its calls for regional peace. Several foreign offices, including Georgia, the EU, the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and even the Pope, have called for a cessation of the violence. Azerbaijan, for all of its statements, shows no clear intent on reigning back its forces from continuing their push, and, as a result, Armenia and their Artsakh dependents will mount their resistance accordingly. Just as with two dogs fighting, the only way to break them apart is by forcing their handlers to take action. Georgia will have to be part of that in some capacity, and as a regional neighbor it could be said that Tbilisi will have the loudest voice.

By Michael Godwin

An Armenian soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh firing a conventional artillery piece towards Azeri positions.Source:Armenian Defense Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

01 October 2020 16:53