The Heart of the Matter For Russia Is NATO Expansion

The prospect of NATO’s eastern expansion advancing deeper into the Russian sphere of influence remains an undeniable fear for the Russian government. It continues to color the Kremlin’s decision making and forms the foundation of Russia’s defense and foreign policy to a great extent. NATO’s eastern expansion is at the heart of Russia’s growing involvement in Ukraine, Belarus and on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. It has been, for all intents and purposes, the thorn in Moscow’s side for decades. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s warning at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Sweden made it clear his nation is reaching the point where its actions will not be constrained by Western threats and military maneuvers in close proximity to Russia’s frontiers.

Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met at the conference in Sweden. Whereas Blinken warned of “serious consequences” if Russia sought a military conflict with Ukraine. His Russian counterpart responded with a warning that Europe might be returning to the “nightmare of military confrontation.” He followed up with a proposal to establish a new security pact in Europe to prevent further NATO expansion. Essentially, Lavrov was proposing a return to the Cold War.

Yesterday in a speech, Lavrov accused NATO refusing to consider proposals to lessen tensions and prevent dangerous incidents. “The alliance’s military infrastructure is being irresponsibly brought closer to Russia’s borders in Romania and Poland, deploying an anti-missile defense system that can be used as a strike complex,” he said. “American medium-range missiles are about to appear in Europe, bringing back the nightmare scenario of a military confrontation.” Lavrov then went on to warn the alliance against transforming nations bordering Russian into “bridgeheads of confrontation.”

So, there it is. In the space of a handful of sentences, Lavrov laid out the heart of the matter for Russia: Halting NATO expansion. He also, in a less than surreptitious fashion, listed the issues Russia would be willing to negotiate on in exchange for a solution to the manufactured crisis in Ukraine. There’s no plausible scenario where Washington would agree to a withdrawal of the US military presence from Eastern Europe in exchange for a promise by Russia not to invade Ukraine. On the other side of the coin, Russia will not stand by idle and allow NATO expansion to advance unchecked forever. This crisis may pass without a military confrontation, but the problem is not going to dissolve anytime soon.

Peace Deal Takes Effect In Nagorno-Karabakh

Russia’s motivation behind its brokering of a Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal was, simply put, to prevent Turkey from establishing a stronger presence in an area Russia has long considered to be its vulnerable southern flank. The six week-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia brought Turkish and Russian material, and diplomatic support to their respective allies. Turkey backed Azerbaijan’s military offensive and was active in undermining mediation efforts throughout the conflict. Russia supported Armenia with similar determination. It even sponsored two of the three temporary ceasefires that had been agreed upon during the conflict, only to be broken and disregarded hours later.

The deal went into effect Monday at 1600 hours Eastern Standard Time. Under the terms of the deal, Azerbaijan will hold onto the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it captured during the conflict. Armenia will vacate these areas, as well as adjacent ones over the next 2-3 weeks.  1,900 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the new boundaries, and to patrol the Lachin Corridor, which connects the Karabakh capital city of Stepanakert to Armenia. Turkey will also take part in the peacekeeping process, but in a limited role that will not include combat soldiers being deployed on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. The terms of the agreement will also include an exchange of war prisoners, and the resumption of economic and transportation ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The peace deal is a clear victory for Azerbaijan, and a defeat for Armenia. In Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, there is a mood of celebration and relief. The signing of the deal marks a successful conclusion to a decades-long fight. In Armenia, the mood was quite different. Unrest has broken out in Yerveran, the Armenian capital. Throngs of protesters stormed government offices, and the parliament building on Monday night. But on Tuesday morning, the frustration and anger seemed to have passed. The streets were quiet and calm. The crowds that took part in the unrest believed the fighting should’ve continued on in spite of the circumstances. Armenian leaders believed otherwise.

For better or worse, the fighting has ended and peace has returned to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh CeaseFire In Danger of Faltering

The Russia-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh hasn’t collapsed. However, it is certainly in danger of falling apart. Clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces have continued on despite both sides having agreed to the temporary truce. Russia is calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire as more reports of violations, and some very graphic video of recent fighting reaches the media and governments around the world.

Ethnic Armenia officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have reported 45 more troops have been killed in fighting with Azeri forces, bringing the total number of troops killed in the conflict to roughly 525. Civilian casualty numbers are anticipated to hover somewhere in the same area according to third-party sources in humanitarian organizations.

Heavy fighting was reported Monday around the town of Hadrut in the south of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused the other of conducting heavy artillery and mortar barrages.

*Author’s Note: Short update this evening owing to the holiday here in the States. Back tomorrow with a more in-depth post on the Western Pacific most likely. But that could change. 😊 Have a great night-Mike*

Breaking News: Armenia and Azerbaijan Agree To Temporary Ceasefire

Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed on a temporary ceasefire in Nagorno-Karbakh. It will go into effect at 12 noon, Saturday 10 October, 2020. News of the ceasefire came in the wake of discussions between the foreign ministers of both countries in Moscow. The talks were held after Russian President Vladimir Putin extended an invitation to host talks aimed at finding a way to bring an end to the fighting.

The ceasefire is intended to allow prisoner exchanges, and recovery of the dead. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was sponsoring the talks has said the ceasefire will set the stage for discussions to end the conflict.

Escalation In the Caucasus?

After a week of fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh which has seen considerable casualties, gains by Azerbaijani forces, and international calls for a ceasefire, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia appears on the verge of escalating. The two nations have become increasingly dependent upon ballistic missiles, and artillery to reach each other. Saturday’s Azeri attacks on separatist forces in the Karabakh included ballistic missiles. The Armenians responded with a missile attack on the Azeri city of Ganja. This marks the first time that Armenia has directly targeted Azerbaijan. Until this weekend the fighting has been limited to Nagorno-Karabakh. “Azerbaijan will destroy military targets directly inside Armenia from which shelling of its population centers is taking place,” presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev stated, even though Armenia denies having launched any sort of attack on Azerbaijan. The Armenian and Azeri governments have traded accusations and claims which are difficult for third-party sources outside of the region to confirm or deny.

As the conflict now seems to be escalating, it remains uncertain what the next phase will be. Armenia and Azerbaijan might find value in targeting strategic targets of the other side with ballistic missiles. Both nations possess respectable amounts of missiles able to strike targets hundreds of kilometers away. The Armenian inventory of ballistic missiles is made up almost entirely of Russian models, while the Azerbaijani stockpiles includes an eclectic mixture of earlier model Russian, and more modern Western weapons.

Another direction the conflict could now take is, ironically enough, one of mediation and ceasefire. Now that the two nations have lashed out at the other with missile strikes, it might be a signal that they are willing to explore an end to the fighting. Armenia has  reportedly considered requesting Russian peacekeepers, an act which could see the creation of yet another Russia-Turkey proxy conflict similar to Libya; Turkish-supplied Syrian mercenaries on the Azerbaijani side, and Russian troops under the guise of peacekeepers with the Armenians. This would inevitably chipping away at Azeri, and Armenian sovereignty much the same as we have seen happen in Libya, and to a lesser degree Syria in recent years.