About Russia of Vladimir Putin and Turkey of Recep Erdogan people often say that they are more afraid of peace than of war. Therefore, these days there are on-going heated debates about which of these two bullies has provoked the fighting that began at the end of the week in the Caucasus.
So, once again, a war suddenly broke out between Christian Armenians in the enclave of Nagornyj-Karabakh and Muslim Azerbaijan, which will never reconcile with the fact that the enclave left the republic during the Soviet Union's collapse. The mood has not been improved: in addition, the Armenians have occupied a great area outside of the enclave.
Although a truce was announced on Thursday, few people believed that we were witnessing the last great bloodshed.
Because during the last days of fighting dozens of people were killed, according to Turkish and Russian press, this being unlikely the spontaneous expression of the conflict.
Hard truce has been observed since 1994 and, in spite of the hostility and daily skirmishes between the parties, in all these years we have never seen fighting at such a scale as nowadays. It looks like a prelude to a large-skale war, and according to the Turkish and Russian media, it is either Putin or Erdogan who is the conductor of this war band.
A new feature here is the quarrel which arose between them. And as Putin supports the Armenians, and Erdogan – the Azerbaijanis, who are simply called “Turks” by the Armenians of Nagornyj Karabakh, it is clear that they can use this conflict to give the lesson to the adversary.
So who is standing behind the curtains? Both, according to their critics, have their own good reasons to stir up the already troubles waters. Speaking about Putin, we can see that he lacks the new "television" war. The conventional assertion of Putin’s critics is that he is using the war to divert people's attention from the economic crisis in Russia. First, Ukraine, then Syria. But now he is officially retired from Syria, though unofficially the Russians continue to fight there. You should stop to show it on television, if it was said that the troops had gone. And ordinary people in Russia will soon begin to feel that they lack daily patriotic shots on TV.
Therefore, Putin is using a new "theater of war". The Russians use this name in order to name a war zone. Nagornyj Karabakh perferctly fits for this aim: there the main adversary is presented by Erdogan and Turkey, which in recent years expresses unequivocal support for Azerbaijan.
At the same time, Putin could, as, in particular, the journalist Yevgeny Kiselev said, once again make Russia the center of the international community's efforts to prevent a war. It's well known, that the only reason that Azerbaijan still has not won the Nagornyj Karabakh, is that it is in this case it would start a war with Russia. The enclave with a population of 150 thousand people has no chance in the war with such a rich oil state like Azerbaijan, even with the active support of Armenia. Azerbaijan’s defense budget surpasses the entire state budget of Armenia. Therefore, only Russia has the will and military strength to force Azerbaijan to prudence.
But Russia may use the conflict in another way, forcing a wedge into a special relationship between Turkey and the EU, caused by the desire to limit the flow of migrants to the European Union. If the EU and Turkey are allies, this fact - in Russia’s opinion - will weaken the Russian Federation geopolitically. Therefore, the more you can provoke Erdogan, the more he shows his worst, militant party, the better. The Russian are betting that it will inflate the conflict in the Caucasus, while the West will try to extinguish it.
In the end, Erdogan, engulfed by megalomania, might try to mobilize NATO. But NATO will definitely refuse to intervene, because it is a blow to the prestige of the alliance. It is not really explicitly so indestructible - a kind of "one for all and all for one" - as Stoltenberg used to say in the best years.
Economically, too, the fear of a major war may suit Russia, who selling a large number of weapons both to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Poor Armenia pays it with loans taken from Russia, while Azerbaijan pays the arms with real petrol-dollars. The threat of war will force them to buy more and more.
But Erdogan can really be considered as a man, who is bloating the conflict. When Russian military plane was shot down in November, Russia tried to punish Turkey as much as possible. And all Turkish attempts at rapprochement and reconciliation were immediately rejected. Only a full-fledged formal apology could rectify the situation, but Erdogan is not able to do so.
Therefore, Erdogan really decided to force Russia to the table of negotiations, persuading Azerbaijan to attack Nagornyj Karabakh, Russian ally. He was genuinely concerned that Russia recently has placed modern combat aircraft and helicopters at its military base in Erebuni in Armenia in order to patrol the border with Turkey, which is situated only ten kilometers away from the base.
And if this is exactly how the matters are going on, then Erdogan didn’t find difficulty in convincing the President of Azerbaijan to attack Nagornyj Karabakh, because in Azerbaijan an economic crisis started to develop due to low oil prices, and the autocratic President Ilham Aliyev had to improve its image. Meanwhile, he won two strategically important heights in Nagornyj Karabakh, and the population is overjoyed.
The proof of this lies on the surface: in any case, Erdogan and his Prime Minister provided abundant declarations about the support to Azerbaijan, even though they know that it would strongly provoke Russia. As recently as yesterday, on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised in Parliament to stand up to the end - shoulder to shoulder with Azerbaijan.
It certainly means that if Russia doesn’t act as expected, then Turkey will show the Russians the pandemonium in the Caucasus. In Russia, paranoia has also been growing. Military experts - such as former Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov - directly inform the news agency "Interfax" that Erdogan is planning to draw Russia into a major war with NATO in order to destroy it once and for all.
Again there are loud voices commenting on the situation. The majority agrees that neither Putin nor Erdogan are not interested in a large-scale war. It is not a war, but its threat that can open bigger opportunities. But this in itself is dangerous enough. In the Caucasus it was always easier to make a big fire than to extinguish it.Anna Libak (Denmark)
Translated by Maria Kryzhanovska