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Review & Outlook - 04/11/2006

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Balance of Power in South Caucasus and the Probability
for Resumption of War in Nagorno Karabakh

Armenian News Network / Groong
April 11, 2006

By Sergey Minasyan and Grigor Hakobyan


In the weeks that followed the failed Armenian-Azerbaijani
negotiations in Rambouillet, the Azerbaijani government spared no time
or energy to carry out major war propaganda through every media outlet
in Azerbaijan. The constant barrage of threats against the republics
of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh were rather unprecedented in their
consistency and ferocity compared to similar remarks made by the
Azerbaijani authorities for the last few years.

According to various experts' opinions, the widely anticipated failure
of negotiations between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan,
further radicalization of moods in both countries [1] and continued
drive for self-determination by Mountainous Karabakh has created a
strong possibility for the resumption of war in the region. If in the
past the Azerbaijani war rhetoric was always considered to be meant
for domestic consumption, the subsequent responses from authorities of
the Armenian Republic and Karabakh about their preparedness to meet
any military challenges to be posed by Azerbaijan against Armenia have
prompted us to analyze the balance of power existing in the triangle
of `Armenia-Republic of Nagorno Karabakh- Azerbaijan.'


It is known that after signing the ceasefire between the three sides
of the conflict in May 1994, all sides carried out significant work to
strengthen their armed forces. Azerbaijan has especially stood out in
this issue. In the past 10-12 years Azerbaijan has purchased
significant quantities of weapons and military equipment, specifically
tanks, artillery systems and combat aircrafts. The parameters of
armament purchases made by Azerbaijan have reached such a point that
Azerbaijan now has 1.5-2 times more tanks and armored vehicles, two
times more artillery systems and other equipment that exceed the
limits set by the updated 1999 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in
Europe (CFE) [2] signed by members of the OSCE in Istanbul. According
to expert evaluation, the number of tanks alone, not counting armored
vehicles, is nearly 500 pieces.

Quite significant was the support shown by Turkey in their
contributions to strengthen the Azerbaijani army. Such support ranged
from training Azerbaijani military personnel to deliveries of military
equipment and armaments. Due to help shown by Turkish specialists and
instructors, thousands of Azerbaijani officers were trained according
to western standards and some have even taken part in special-forces
operations carried out by Turkish troops against Kurdish guerrillas in
the southeast of Turkey[3]. However in reality, the extent of
financial and military-technical support shown by Turkey for
Azerbaijan is a lot greater. As was declared by Turkish Minister of
Defense Ve«ddi Kenul during his meeting with the Azerbaijani foreign
Minister E.  Mamedyarov, Turkish military support for Azerbaijan in
whole has made over $170 million dollars [4].

Military aid allocated to Azerbaijan by Washington after the events of
September 11, 2001 was not only related to technical support allocated
to Azerbaijani Defense Ministry but also in the framework of `struggle
against international terrorism', which included technical
improvements of Azerbaijani interior troops, border troops and custom
enforcement units in addition to strengthening the Azerbaijani navy.
Furthermore, modernization of Azerbaijani airfields with American
financial support in compliance with NATO standards and the
construction of two radar stations by Americans, in Khizi and Astare
have significantly boosted Azerbaijani military capabilities that
could be easily utilized in case of a renewed conflict over the
Nagorno Karabakh.

Recently, active cooperation in the military-technical field is also
observed in Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Besides direct commercial
sales of Russian military equipment and armaments to Azerbaijan,
Russia has also provided significant technical aid to Azerbaijani
forces. For example, according to an agreement reached between the two
countries in 2002 regarding the status of the Russian Gabala radar
installation, Russia agreed to upgrade the Azerbaijani air defense
equipment and air force in addition to training Azerbaijani military
personnel and repairing their aging equipment and armaments. [5]

Azerbaijan certainly stands out by the size of its air force compared
to that of Armenian forces. The great portion of the Azerbaijani air
forces are made up of a large number of soviet helicopters and MiG-25
aircrafts of various prototypes (nearly 30 units) which are meant to
be used in aerial combat, as such they are not practical for use
against ground troops. However, in the presence of a very small
Armenian air force, the use of Azerbaijani MiG-25 and Su-27 (purchased
from Kazakhstan a few years ago) interceptors in aerial combat are
very limited in scope. But it is worth mentioning the presence of
certain quantity of Su-25 and Su-24 bombers within the Azerbaijani air
force. These are meant to be used as close air support for advancing
ground troops. These types of aircraft have gained a good reputation
in various wars of the 20th century and were commonly used by
Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war from 1992-1994.

The superiority of Azerbaijani air forces in a renewed Conflict with
Armenians is downgraded by the superiority of air defenses in the
possession of Armenian and Nagorno Karabakhi forces. In fact,
Armenians have installed a multi-level air-defense system comprised of
long and medium range rocket launchers (S-125, S-75, `Kub') and short
range air defense artillery and Human Portable SAM (`Osa', ZSU-23-4,
`Igla' and `Strela')[6] that can provide Armenians with an adequate
Layer of air defense.  Additionally, as the Armenian air defenses are
being buffed up by the latest addition of air defense weapons and
equipment the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani air forces will be
practically neutralized. If we take into consideration the terrain of
the region, the only air force units that Azerbaijan will be able to
effectively utilize will be Mi-24 attack helicopters, however, their
use will not provide Azerbaijan with much superiority over the
Armenian ground forces.

It is worth mentioning that during the 12 years of the current
cease-fire, both sides of the conflict have built multi-level defense
lines that are very difficult to overcome without having absolute
qualitative and quantitative superiority over the opponent. This is
especially true regarding the powerful defense lines throughout the
territory of Lower Karabakh currently under the jurisdiction of the
authorities of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. To reinforce the
defense fortifications in Karabakh, the Armenian side has spent large
resources to build very sophisticated defense lines similar to the
fortification lines of WW-2, the Line of Maginot and the Line of
Mannergeim. Furthermore the current front lines present a short line
of contact that allows numerically insignificant Armenian forces to
concentrate enough firepower to efficiently defend their positions. [7]

According to military experts, the presence of sufficient numbers of
artillery and anti-tank weapons in defense lines allow the Karabakh
defense forces to inflict major losses to invading Azerbaijani troops,
thus reducing the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani tanks and armored
vehicles during the first wave of the attack and furthermore prevent
their advancement into the depths of the Nagorno Karabakh territory.

Overall, if we analyze the military forces of Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh we will find that both of them are superior to Azerbaijani
forces in combat readiness, despite the fact that they are numerically
smaller. The organizational structure of the Karabakh army allows
numerically smaller regiments to maintain mobility and work
effectively, especially in conditions of mountainous combat. [8]
Results obtained from numerous military exercises conducted in
Karabakh have shown that in case of resumption of the war, volunteer
mobilization of all males in the republic would constitute 100%. This
allows for the army of Nagorno Karabakh Republic to numerically and
qualitatively strengthen its troops within hours with veterans of the
Karabakh war who are experienced in combat and very familiar with the

Additional factors working against the resumption of war in Karabakh
are the multibillion dollar foreign investments in the exploration and
deliveries of Caspian oil and gas to foreign markets, continuing
international tensions over the Iranian decision to resume its
enrichment of uranium and Armenian missile defenses that are capable
of devastating Azerbaijani oil and gas facilities within short period
of time.

Western and a number of Asian companies have made billions of dollars
of investments in Baku-Cheyan and Baku-Erzerum oil and gas pipelines
that are currently being built with the intention to carry out Central
Asian energy resources to western markets. The construction of
trans-Caspian energy pipelines constitutes the core of American
interests in the region, aimed at curbing Russian and Iranian
influence in the Caucasus and enhancing the sovereignties of the
former soviet states. [9]

Additionally, it is hard to imagine that United States and Europe will
allow fanatics in Baku to unleash a regional war, thus jeopardizing
their efforts to constrain Iranian nuclear ambitions and potentially
take measures to prevent Iranian nuclear efforts from reaching a point
of no return. The current American administration has repeatedly
stated that a nuclear Iran is not an option that they are willing to
consider and has promised to spare no efforts to prevent Iran from
attaining nuclear weapons. [10] As such, it is hard to imagine how the
instability in the South Caucasus may not play out to the benefit of
Iran by diverting the international attention from its nuclear

Finally, in case of resumption of war in Karabakh, Armenia may
consider carrying out missile strikes against Azerbaijani oil and gas
facilities since they will be considered legitimate military targets.
As such, Armenia has enough short range SCUD-B ballistic missiles to
devastate any sources of fuel that can be used to power the
Azerbaijani war machine.[11] Continuous Armenian investments in
rocket-artillery and air defenses enable Armenia to counter any
threats of air attack by Azerbaijan and their numeric supremacy in
tanks and armored vehicles are rendered useless.

Let's also not forget that Armenian membership in CSTO provides the
country with various defense privileges, among which an attack against
any member country is considered as an act of war against the members
of the alliance. Thus Azerbaijan will find itself in war not only
against the combined forces of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, but also
against the members of CSTO military alliance, if Baku decides to
carry out offensive operations not only on the territory of Nagorno
Karabakh, but also against the Republic of Armenia in the proximity
of north-eastern borders (along the Azerbaijani border with Armenia's
Taush and Gegharkunik provinces) or along the border of
Armenia-Nakhichevan province.


Despite the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani armed forces in the
number of military personnel or large quantities of various armaments
in the possession of Azerbaijani forces for the last 10 years, which
have continuously exceeded the limits allowed by the CFE Treaty, it is
unlikely that the authorities in Baku will be confident enough to
resume the war in the region. Even if Azerbaijan generates enough
wealth from the sale of its oil, it won't be enough to gain
unquestionable superiority over the Armenian troops to successfully
carry out a major offensive on the front lines.

As we have mentioned before, the main weakness of the Karabakh army is
the lack of air force, while the Armenian air force remains
numerically insignificant.  However, despite such weaknesses, the
possession of strong air defenses allows the Karabakh army to
neutralize the advantages of the Azerbaijani air force just like they
did before, during the 1992-1994 war.  At the same time, neither the
Armenian nor Karabakhi armies have any intentions of undertaking
offensive measures within the duration of the first Azerbaijani
offensive, as the current positions allow them to effectively defend
themselves with the smallest number of troops.

However, it is possible that Karabakh forces may undertake
counter-offensive measures after stopping the first wave of
Azerbaijani attack and if successful obtain new positions that will
threaten important regions in Azerbaijan. Therefore, we are doubtful
about the merit of Azerbaijani war threats as the prevailing
corruption among the Azerbaijani armed forces and the brutalities of
the illegal regime in Baku leave very few reasons for Azerbaijani
soldiers to fight and risk their lives for a territory that would
never be theirs.


1) Noyan Tapan-Armenians Today Mar 14, 2006.

2) British Experts Urge to Reckon with New Reality in Karabakh

3) Howard G. E. NATO and the Caucasus: The Caspian Axis//NATO After
Enlargement: New Challenges, New Missions, New Forces/ Ed. Blank S. J.
SSI: Carlisle, 1998, p.174.

4) Military Aid to Turkey is $170 million dollars//RIA `Novosti',
22.07.2005 (in Russian).

5) Korotcheno I. The Status of Gabala Radio Location Station is
Determined// Nezavisimoye Voennoe Obozrenie, 22.07.2005, (in Russian).

6) The Military Balance 2005-2006. IISS: London, 2005, p. 108-111.

7) S. Minasyan: Lower Karabakh is needed for the safety of MKR.
Superiority of Azerbaijan in armaments is countered by optimal defense
positions of the unrecognized republic// Voenno-Promishlini Kuryer,
#28 (105), October 12-18 2005.

8) Giragosian R. Toward A New Concept of Armenian National Security.
The World Bank: Washington, DC. January 2005. p-15-16.

9) Arminfo, Yerevan, March 11, 2006.

10) Guardian. `The neo-cons seem desperate to attack'; Jan. 25, 2005.

11) United Press International, USA March 13, 2006.


SERGEY MINASYAN headed the Yerevan based Caucasus Media Institute
(CMI) Caucasus Studies Department. He is a political scientist and
holds a Ph.D. in History. His numerous publications focus on regional
security and conflicts in the South Caucasus.

In 1998, Sergey was awarded an MA at the Department of International
Relations, Yerevan State University. In 2002, he defended his Ph.D.
thesis on Military History of Armenia at the Institute of History,
National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Since 2002, he has lectured
on the theory of international relations and regional security at
various institutes and universities of Armenia. In 2003-2006, he
headed the Scientific Research Centre for South Caucasus Security and
Integration Studies. He had contracts with a number of Armenian and
international research centers.



The Karabakh Conflict: Refuges, Territories, Security.  Yerevan, 2005,
(in Russian, Armenian and English),;


1. EU - Armenia Cooperation and the New European Neighborhood Policy
// Political Reform Process in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan:
Political Elite and Voices of the People. CIPDD - International IDEA,
Tbilisi, 2005,;

2. Comments on Policy Paper: Division of State Power between Central
and Local Levels // Political Reform Process in Georgia, Armenia and
Azerbaijan: Political Elite and Voices of the People.  CIPDD -
International IDEA, Tbilisi, 2005,;

3. The Socioeconomic and Political Situation in Javakhetia // Central
Asia and the Caucasus, #-3, 2005 (in Russian and English),;

4. Military-Technical Aspects of Southern Caucasus Regional Security
Problems // Caucasus Review, Centre for Caucasian Studies, Moscow
State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of
Russia, Moscow, #-2, 2005 (in Russian);

5. In the Context of Regional Security: Russian-Armenian
Military-Political Cooperartion // Vjenno-promishlenniy Kurier, #-20
(87), 08-14.06.2005, (in Russian),;

6. The Georgian Army // Vjenno-promishlenniy Kurier, #-17 (84),
18-24.05.2005, (in Russian),;

7. Javakhk (Javakhetia): Legal Aspects of Protection of Armenian
National Minorities? Rights in Georgia in International Level.
Political and Socio-economical Situation in the Region in Modern
Period // Scientific Research Centre for South Caucasus Security and
Integration Studies. Research Paper #-2. Yerevan, 2005;

8. Arms Control in the Southern Caucasus // Central Asia and the
Caucasus, #-6, 2004 (in Russian and English),;

9. Iran: Armed Forces and Security Policy // Central Asia and the
Caucasus, #-2, 2004 (in Russian and English),;

10. Militarization of Southern Caucasus and Development of Regional
Military // 21 Dar, #-4, 2004 (in Russian);

11. Israel-Turkey Strategic Cooperation in the Context of Regional
Security Issues // 21 Dar, #-2, 2004 (in Russian),;

12. History and Perspectives of Russian-Iranian Military-Political
Cooperation // Review of RA National Academy of Science, #-2, 2004 (in

13. Israel, Turkey: Military-Political and Military-Technical
Cooperation (regional security problems) // Central Asia and the
Caucasus, #-1, 2004 (in Russian and English),;

14. The Turkish-Israeli Military and Political Co-operation and the
Issues of Regional Security // Iran and the Caucasus.  Vol. VII,
Brill, Leiden - Boston. 2003,;

15. Russia - Iran: Military-Political Cooperation and Its Prospects //
Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-5, 2003 (in Russian and

16. Iran's Nuclear Missile Program and Regional Security Problems //
Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-4, 2003 (in Russian and

17. Iran on the Way to the Nuclear Bomb? (Analysis of Tehran?s Nuclear
Missile Program) // Central Asia and the Caucasus, #-3, 2003 (in
Russian and English),;

18. CIS: Building a Collective Security System // Central Asia and the
Caucasus, #-1, 2003 (in Russian and English),;

19. The Contemporary Status of Iran's Nuclear Missile Program and the
Russian-Iranian Relations // Iran and the Caucasus.  Vol. VI, Brill,
Leiden - Boston. 2002,;

20. The Role of Armenians in the Iranian Army // Peyman. A Cultural
Quarterly Journal, Vol.1, #-.18-19, Tehran, Winter-Spring 2001-2002
(in Persian).

GRIGOR HAKOBYAN is an independent political analyst residing in
Scottsdale, Arizona and the founder of Caucasus Watch Public Research
Initiative. He is an author of more than several dozens articles
pertaining to Armenia and the Caucasus Region and a freelance writer
for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of John Hopkins University.

In 2004 he interned at the US House of Representatives where among
other duties he engaged in research of ethnic conflicts and terrorism
in Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2005 he interned at the
International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute
for Policy Studies where he engaged in an extensive research of
international terrorism networks operating in the Caucasus and Central
Asia and prepared congressional briefings for the Director of ICTS in
regards to terrorist efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Grigor is a former ANCA Fellow and one of the main founders of Usanogh
-Periodical of Armenian Students. He is also a former editor of Puma
Press of Paradise Valley Community College and the winner of Puma
Press `Politico' Award. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science
from Arizona State University.

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