The Armenian-Azerbaijani war, which started on September 27, continues in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region despite international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the conflict.
Offensive operations of Azerbaijani forces continue at the same time as the Azerbaijani government claims that it is committed to the ceasefire regime. The first humanitarian ceasefire entered force in Karabakh on October 10 and collapsed on the next day, while the second one started on October 18 with the same result. The Armenian side also insists that it is committed to the ceasefire while simultaneously conducting counter-attacks against the advancing Azerbaijani forces.
For the Armenian side, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the current Armenian leadership is not ready to (or does not want to) employ all of its means and forces to fight back the Azerbaijani advance. Instead of this, Armenian forces involved in the conflict are limited to those of the Nagorno-Karakbah Republic.
The government of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has so far limited its support to Karabakh to supplying weapons, sending volunteers (instead of regular forces), complaining in the media and calling on other countries to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state, while Armenia itself has made no steps in this direction.
As of October 19, the situation on the frontline demonstrates that the Azerbaijani-Turkish side has been slowly but steadily taking an upper hand in the war. Azerbaijani forces have achieved a series of tactical successes in the northern and southern part of the region, capturing two dozen small towns and villages. The most important of them are Fuzuli, Jabrayl, Hadrut, Madaghis and Talish. Azerbaijani forces also advanced in the direction of the Khudaferin Reservoir.
Over the past few days, especially heavy clashes were taking place near the town of Hadrut, from which Armenian forces withdrew after Azerbaijan took control of the surrounding heights. Fuzuli experienced a similar fate as the Hadrut heights in fact overlook its countryside as well.
The Azerbaijani military extensively uses its advantage in air, artillery and manpower. The advance is also supported by militant groups deployed by Turkey from the northwest of Syria, Turkish special forces and specialists (especially in the field of EW operations, intelligence and air domain warfare).
These factors, especially the air dominance, allowed Azerbaijan to deliver notable damage to Armenian forces destroying multiple pieces of their military equipment, destroying fortified positions and manpower. The outdated air defense forces of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic appeared to be unable to deal with the threat from Azerbaijani military aircraft, while Armenia also seems to be unable to or has no political to will to employ its air defense. Just recently, on October 17, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released a video of strikes on a S-300 system in Armenia.
At the same time, the Azerbaijani military conducts intense strikes on civilian infrastructure in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Despite the public claims of the Azerbaijani leadership that the conflict has no ethnic grounds and that there is no threat to the Armenian population, in fact, Baku seeks to not only dismantle the self-proclaimed Armenian state, but also to remove Armenians from this territory. The Armenian side responds in a similar manner regularly shelling settlements and towns in Azerbaijan.
While some of these strikes may be considered as accidental, as Armenian sources claim, the recent strikes on the Azerbaijani city of Ganja with ballistic missiles are for sure not an accident. According to Azerbaijani authorities, 13 civilians were killed and more than 40 others were injured in the attack on the city. The strike was likely conducted with the Soviet R-17 Elbrus tactical ballistic missile complex, which is in service with Karabakh forces.
It is likely that the Turkish-Azerbaijani bloc will develop its advance further along the Iranian border aiming for the towns of Qobadli and Zengilan. For Azerbaijan, it will be profitable to extend the frontline because it will allow it to use its advantage in air power and manpower. Meanwhile, the terrain in this part of the region is less complex than that in the center or the north.
In the event of success, such an advance will allow Azerbaijan to undermine the entire southern flank of Armenian forces deployed in Stepankert and Shusha. This will also create a threat of cutting off the so-called Lachin corridor, a mountain pass within the de jure borders of Azerbaijan, forming the shortest route between Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh. Another direction of the possible advance is Martakert and Agdam. Nonetheless, in this case, even if Azerbaijani forces achieve a success there, a further advance will be more complicated due to the more complex terrain.
The humanitarian ceasefire announced on October 17 seems like another attempt of the Minsk group, led by France, Russia and the United States, to de-escalate the conflict. Nonetheless, the position of the current Armenian government, which was for years undermining its relations with Russia, and the hardcore posture of Azerbaijan and Turkey that have already felt the flavour of potential military victory will likely not allow the parties involved to find a ‘constructive’ solution of the situation.
Thus, Ankara and Baku will continue demanding a full surrender of Armenia over the Karabakh question, which the Armenian government (even if it wants to do so) cannot accept because this will lead to the immediate collapse of the Pashinyan regime and instability inside Armenia itself.
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*All posts on behalf of South Front are made by Gordon Duff