Following a pick-up in fatal gunfire exchanges along the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline, Moscow has announced plans to double its troop strength in ally Armenia by the end of the year. The upshot of the message was clear: Azerbaijan could face Russian guns if it attempts to push Armenian forces out of long-occupied Azerbaijani lands.
The new arrivals will be temporary — the “permanent” troop presence at Gyumri, the northern Armenian site of Russia’s 102nd Military Base, will stay at 5,000, according to Colonel Igor Gorbul, a spokesperson for Russia’s Southern Military District, RIA Novosti reported — and will receive a higher salary and undefined benefits to whet their interest in sticking around.
They’ll arrive at a base that’s been a bit on the bustling side of late. Russian jets have been busy drilling in Armenian airspace, and, in March, Moscow held war games in Gyumri. Earlier on, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization — a Russian response to NATO — said that the Moscow-led alliance will protect Armenia from enemy attacks. “If unfriendly actions are taken against Armenia, all member states will provide relevant assistance to Armenia,” pledged CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha.
Officials in Baku countered that not all CSTO members would be willing to take on Azerbaijan. “The CSTO and Russia, in particular, should not help the occupant [Armenia], if Azerbaijan decides to free its lands,” said Faraj Guliyev, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament’s Committee for Defense and Security.
But as the 2008 war with Georgia showed, if Russia wants to get involved, it will — and the results can be disastrous.
As is its wont in the South Caucasus’ separatist struggles, Moscow, though, wears two hats in the 24-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — that of Armenia’s longtime military ally and that of mediator (along with the US and France) between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While, like its fellow go-betweens, it espouses belief in a peaceful resolution, its buildup in Armenia suggests another belief as well — speak softly, but carry a big stick.
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