Fighting went on for quite some time in Nagorno-Karabakh, and for quite some time Russia looked confused and uncertain. Perhaps this was a false assumption because Russia once again was able to achieve what it wanted – maintaining good relations, at least officially, with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
How was this possible – only those who participated can answer this question. I am sure that everyone had their own motives, but Azerbaijan is the one who lost the most. Of course, the most important thing was to stop the war, but it is highly unlikely that this was Russia’s actual goal.
So, how did the events unfold in general terms? On 27 September 2020, an armed conflict began. Several ceasefires were reached but all of them were violated without hesitation. Russia announced that it will engage only when Azerbaijan begins threatening Armenia. I will remind you that Armenia is part of the CSTO.
On 10 November 2020, a complete ceasefire was agreed mediated by Russia. The terms of the ceasefire intend that Azerbaijan will keep all the territories it liberated, including the region’s second largest city Shusha. In addition, Armenia has until 1 December to give up control over several other territories. Russian peacekeepers will remain in Nagorno-Karabakh for at least five years and will be located along the line of contact separating the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces and the Lachin corridor that connects Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.1
Everything would seem fine, except the peculiar incident that took place the day before – on 9 November, a Russian Mi-24 helicopter was downed over Armenia not far from the Nagorno-Karabakh border. Media reported that the aircraft was escorting a column of forces from a Russian military base when it was shot down using a man-portable surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.2 Azerbaijan was quick to announce that the helicopter was downed by mistake.
The events that followed unfolded as in the best Hollywood movies – Azerbaijan apologized for its actions, and Putin accepted this apology. Two criminal cases were launched in both Azerbaijan and Russia – the first for negligence during service and the second for violating flight safety requirements. The mistake had allegedly occurred due to several reasons.
Everything sounds delightful, however there are several BUTS.
In such cases, the location where the aircraft was downed would usually be disclosed, but this time it didn’t happen. It was only revealed that it took place over Armenian territory. Why is this important? Quite simple – the helicopter was shot down with a man-portable SAM system, and the range of such a SAM system, regardless of the manufacturer, is 6,000 meters.
Let’s keep in mind that this happened at night. Those who have visited Armenia and Azerbaijan know that these are mountainous countries, meaning it would be impossible to exploit the maximum range even during the day. And we just happen to be in a situation where no outsider will be able to confirm or deny what really happened. As they say – only lies need to be kept secret.
Next, did no one bother to ask what was a Russian forces column – as some media outlets pointed out, from the Russian 102nd Military Base in Gyumri (Armenia) which is on the other side of Armenia – doing so close to the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan? To be exact, there are about 170 kilometers from the said base to the nearest Azerbaijani border.
It’s not enough that a military column of a foreign state was moving freely inside another country near the borders of yet another country, they were actually very close if we consider the range of man-portable SAM system, and the road led in only one direction – Azerbaijan. What were Russian army units doing there? And the column most definitely didn’t consist of one or two vehicles because air support was present.
Lastly, if the helicopter was downed in the airspace of Armenia, shouldn’t it be considered an attack against Armenia, not to mention an attack against a Russian aircraft? Even more so because the CSTO has an article stipulating that an attack against one member state is an attack against all member states. On a side note – if Azerbaijan apologized to Russia, why didn’t it see it necessary to apologize to Armenia?
We have a lot to think about. What will follow is only an assumption but – based on what I already wrote – a highly probable one.
Azerbaijan and its army were wrecking Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians did very badly, to put it mildly, and neither Russian armaments, nor Russia itself – being Armenia’s ally and CSTO partner – weren’t able to save them.
While Azerbaijan did quite well – it had better armaments, and its ally Turkey turned out to be an ally in reality as well.
However, Russia wanted to both maintain its influence and present itself as the global savior of a conflict it itself had accelerated and one that allowed Russia to sell weapons to both sides. It’s undeniably a difficult task to achieve, but it is well known that Russia has perfected the art of provocation.
Easy – Russia downs its own helicopter over Armenia, or at least grounds it so the crew can escape, and no one will ever know. But let’s be honest – Putin wouldn’t care about two lost lives anyway.
Then, Russia could calmy explain to Azerbaijan: “We have evidence that you were the one who shot down the helicopter. As we already said, until you set foot in Armenia, we will not interfere, but if you do, expect to face the might of Russia. And no one will believe that you didn’t down the helicopter. Our evidence will be so convincing that no one will object.” After all, if Russia makes a statement, other countries can think whatever they wish.
After outlining this scenario, Russia politely offers Azerbaijan to admit that it had accidentally shot down the helicopter, so a ceasefire can be agreed. In other words, Azerbaijan was forced to choose between a ceasefire or “admitting” that it had attacked a Russian helicopter on Armenian soil. Each of these accusations alone is enough for CSTO members to start acting and put an end to Azerbaijan’s existence.
And what concerns Armenia, Russia said: “Either you agree to the ceasefire or we will let Azerbaijan continue doing what it started, because it’s evident that you won’t be able to hold on much longer. And we will find a reason why this situation is outside the jurisdiction of the CSTO.”
Regardless of how hot-blooded Azerbaijani and Armenian politicians and people are, they understand that the only way for each nation to continue its existence is to agree with Russia’s terms.
Once again, Russia gets what it wants – peace in the region depends on Russia’s benevolence, Armenia will buy even more weapons from Russia and Azerbaijan, despite being wealthier and possessing a powerful ally, will probably buy something from Russia too.
We can’t be certain that everything unfolded exactly as I described here, but there is no reason to consider it beyond the bounds of possibility. The entire situation is more than bizarre, and we know that whenever Russia decides to take part in something – nothing good or honest should be expected.