A presidential election in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was held on August 11. As had been expected, acting President of the NKR Arkady Gukasyan won the election. Not a single country has recognized legitimate nature of this election, although this circumstance did not prevent the republic from having international observers and journalists at polling stations. The election shows that in the political sense the republic has rather streamlined and efficient executive and legislative authorities, the economy is growing and a military buildup is underway. All this happens in spite of the fact that peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on status of NKR have come to a dead end.
The leading world powers assess the meeting of Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan held on August 14 positively. On August 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry will issue its official statements dedicated to this topic. The PR department of the Foreign Ministry reported that Moscow welcomed the fact that after a break (the previous talks of the Presidents took place on November 30, 2001, during the jubilee CIS summit in Moscow) direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan on the supreme level was restarted. “We have frequently emphasized the importance of highest-level Azerbaijani-Armenian contacts, which have foremost importance from the standpoint of quick achievement of a political resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on a compromise basis,” emphasized the Foreign Ministry in its statement.
Frank Pallone, Co-chairman of the US Congress Group for Armenian issues was even more optimistic. He says that the US hopes that the signing of a peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh will take place in the near future. Stressing that the future elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan may lead to certain difficulties in the process of conflict resolution, Frank Pallone expresses a hope that meetings of the Presidents and work of the Minsk OSCE group will be fruitful. It is known that this is only a wish. No specific agreements were reached during the meeting of the Presidents. Armenian-Azerbaijani differences have existed, and they remain. Some hawks in Azerbaijan intend to resolve the ethnic and territorial dispute regarding NKR, not recognized by the international community, by military methods.
What is the probability of such a turn of events?
Hypothetically, such a scenario is possible. For instance, Director of the Presidential PR service of NKR, Alexander Grigoryan, told WPS about this. Rasim Musabekov, an expert in international issues from Baku, also spoke about a possibility of restarting of hostilities on the line dividing NKR and Azerbaijani forces.
Could the armed forces conduct combat operations? What is the balance of military forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region?
According to Western sources, the strength of Azerbaijani Armed Forces amounts to 69,900 servicemen, 259 tanks, 328 armored combat vehicles, 303 artillery pieces of 122-mm and larger caliber, 49 combat airplanes and 15 strike helicopters.
Armenia has 52,000 servicemen, 102 tanks, 218 armored combat vehicles, 225 artillery pieces of 122-mm and larger caliber, 6 combat airplanes and 9 strike helicopters.
Meanwhile, rather large forces are concentrated in Nagorno-Karabakh: 20,000-25,000 servicemen, 316 tanks, 324 armored combat vehicles, 322 artillery pieces of 122-mm and larger caliber, and 44 multiple rocket launcher systems (BM-21).
The Karabakh Armed Forces are the most combat ready and efficient armed forces in any of the former Soviet republics. The experience of the former Soviet army was taken as the basis for combat training. The Armed Forces of NKR have practically the same regulations, firing and driving practices. Military exercises are organized regularly, and not only active troops, but also mobilization reserves take part in these exercises. The Armed Forces of NKR have no postponements of drafting (unlike in Russia), and every young man of 18-20 years is obliged to serve in the Armed Forces for two years. NKR spends one-fourth of its budget on defense. There are combat units deployed along all 250 kilometers of the Karabakh-Azerbaijani border. These units are prepared to parry the opponent’s attacks at any time.
Servicemen of NKR study in military educational institutions of Armenia, Russia and other republics. The percentage of professional servicemen in the Armed Forces of NKR is very large (20-22%). The Armed Forces have entire units manned only with professionals. Material incentives are also used. A lieutenant of the Karabakh Armed Forces on the front line earns $150-170 a month. Soldiers serving under contract earn $60-70 a month (average monthly wages in NKR amount to $25-30).
Although the Armed Forces of NKR have no airplanes and strike helicopters, it is evident that the Armenian army will take part on the side of NKR in the case of a conflict. Hence, during calculation and analysis of combat readiness of the parties, it is necessary to make calculations about the Armed Forces of Armenia and NKR together. According to the ground forces, the Armenian party (NKR and Armenia) has obvious superiority, although it is impossible to say this about aviation. Meanwhile, they have efficient Air Defense Forces armed with upgraded S-125 and S-75 systems. Azerbaijani Armed Forces have similar systems, but their crews are worse trained. According to analysts, the efficiency of the ground forces of Azerbaijan is also very low. Thus, in current circumstances Baku is unable to conduct effective offensive combat operations against the forces of NKR and Armenia. Meanwhile, the military and economic potential of Azerbaijan is much higher than that of the opposing forces. Baku has substantial resources for replenishment of fuel and lubricants which Armenia does not, something which may serve as a special combat factor in the future. Destruction of material reserves of fuel and lubricants, ammunition and so on would reduce combat capabilities of the Armenian party tremendously. However, the mountainous terrain covered with forests, good training of mobilization resources and high morale of Armenian forces may contribute to an active defense, including defense by guerrilla methods. Capture of NKR by the Azerbaijani party is possible, but retention of NKR in the framework of the Azerbaijani state for a long time is hardly possible. It is possible, probably only if the Armenian population is fully exterminated, but the international community will hardly allow such a scenario.