All Quiet on the Caucasus front

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All Quiet on the Caucasus front


C lashes have erupted between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, less than two months after the last military conflict in the highly volatile region. In this conflict, the military units of the two sides inflicted significant losses and damages on each other in different ways, turning this conflict into one of the most intense military conflicts in the region in recent years, which is on the verge of becoming a full-scale war. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the conflict the beginning of the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

This article examines this conflict to date from several perspectives and possible moves of each actor based on game theory.

Military dimensions:

From the military point of view, in summarizing the events of the first day between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies, it can be said that in the early hours of the clashes, the Armenian army identified and monitored the Azerbaijani forces, especially their armored forces and inflicted damages with anti-tank missiles and artillery in several ambushes. It caused them relatively high casualties, of course, the weakness of the Azerbaijani army in the use of armored forces was obvious.

However, after a while, the Azerbaijani army flew various drones (mostly made in Turkey), did electronic warfare, and destroy Armenian short-range air defense launchers and many armored vehicles and even many infantries. the drones' most important hunt was the destruction of an ammunition depot of the Armenian army. In these clashes, by far both sides showed considerable skills in the use of drones, guided anti-tank missiles, artillery, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment, in cases such as defense suppression operations (the role of a third player- Turkey- most be noticed). but at the same time in ground combat, especially the effective use of armored forces they were weak and inexperienced. One of the reasons could be that the effective use of armored forces and the implementation of appropriate maneuvers and mobile combat requires a higher level of military knowledge and command capability, which is an epidemic lack in the countries of West Asia and North Africa and they have a fundamental weakness in these parts.

So far, it seems that Azerbaijan has the upper hand and will keep it even in winter, because the UAVs don't have the ground forces restrictions for operations, except in bad weather conditions.

Geopolitical dimensions:

From a geopolitical perspective, we examined the role and motivations of countries involved or potentially involved in the conflict in two categories. • First, countries with direct military involvement or a significant likelihood of their direct involvement in the conflict. • Second, countries that, while unlikely to have direct military involvement in the conflict, could have a significant impact on the conflict if they intervene indirectly.

Direct military intervention:

In this regard, in addition to the two sides in the conflict, Turkey is the third country to have direct military involvement in the conflict, which has had a significant impact on the battlefield, with major successes. The effectiveness of the Azeri side in inflicting casualties on the Armenian side can be seen in the record of Turkish electronic warfare systems and unmanned aerial vehicles operating with Turkish operators on the battlefield.


Turkey seeks to expand its power and Geopolitical influence in three areas; with significant differences in each of these three areas of action and motivation for this geopolitical development. To maintain the coherence of the discussion, only the Caucasus (and Central Asia) region is discussed here. Turkey's close relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan and the economic, military, and cultural relations between the two countries are in a context beyond linguistic similarities between the two countries. Turkey has long sought to expand its territory to the Caucasus and beyond to Central Asia, especially since World War I. The origin of the ethnic-racial identity of turkey finds itself in these lands, which were the origin of the Turkic tribes. even now in countries of Central Asia, eastern Russia, and in western China (Xinjiang region where the Uyghurs live) these Turkic-speaking tribes have a large and populous presence. Both during the Ottoman rule and after the formation of the new Turkey, Turkey saw the main theory of the development of its power in the form of integration and re-migration to the lands of Central Asia, not only from an ethnic and demographic perspective but also from Other geopolitical aspects of such an alliance, to act as a Superstate as a new superpower on the world stage. In recent years, this country has made significant economic and military progress and has well established its position as a regional power. The effects of this are good in intensifying and expanding the country's military intervention in the West Asian region on the one hand, and the development of economic and military relations on the other, and of course along with extensive programs of modernization and increasing the country's military capability. With this in mind, it can be said that in the last few decades, no time has been as favorable as the last few years for the realization of this old dream. But there are also significant challenges ahead for Turkey.

• The presence of other powerful countries such as China and Russia in Central Asia, which may not agree with Turkey's ambitious dream.
• Geographical distance which requires more efforts for power projecting. In the Caucasus, Turkey is looking to overcome the distance crisis. In the meantime, apart from the direct geographical distance, natural features, and obstacles, there are two ethnic-governmental obstacles in the way of Turkey.

- Iran, which is on the way of Turkey due to its need to bypass the Caspian Sea and land connection to Central Asia. In summary, in this section, considering the demographic potential of Turkic-speaking and Azeri-speaking ethnic groups in Iran, as well as the problems of the central government in Iran, Turkey has actively sought to support ethnocentric and separatist activities in Iran. Of course, Turkey's regional rivalry with Iran also gives Turkey a more serious incentive in this area. Although this issue has wide and detailed dimensions, we will suffice to address the main issue of the discussion.
- Armenia. While Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan have strong all-round ties, Armenia in the meantime acts as a wall that prevents the two countries from joining, and thus a significant part of the route to Central Asia. The Ottoman genocide of Armenians in World War I can also be seen as an attempt to remove this obstacle. Armenia, also realizing this danger and in turn on the dream of having the ancient Greate Armenia, has sought to increase its military power and strategic depth, in which the initial occupation of Karabakh by this country Can be evaluated in this regard.

Countries whose indirect involvement in the conflict has the potential to bring about significant change:

• Russia
• Emirates
• Iran


Both sides of the war are Post-Soviet states and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union have extensive political, economic, cultural, and military ties with Russia in a way that the basic arms in the two countries' armies are Russian. but Russia's direct military intervention in the conflict in the interests of one side seems unlikely. In terms of indirect interference, Russia's motives can be described as follows.

• To maintain peace in the South Caucasus so as not to create the potential for insecurity and the opening up of trans-regional armies, especially the United States, in the region.
• To maintain the status quo in such a way that neither side has complete superiority over the other while maintaining dependence and foothold in both countries.
• Russia has an eye on Turkey's ambitious strategies in Central Asia. Therefore, due to Turkey's direct involvement in the conflict, it has provided unofficial logistical support to Armenia, which is mainly sent by IL-76 transport aircraft. And again, Russia's regional rivalry with Turkey in other parts of West Asia, the Balkans, and the Black Sea is further exacerbated.
• Russia also seems reluctant to help Nikol Pashinyan which is a liberalist and may have some long-term plan after the defeat of Armenia and breaking national pride with the slogan that Armenia must Join a stronger alliance.


Although it does not have significant direct interests in the Caucasus region because of which it enters the Karabakh conflict, the only factor that can lead to its indirect but effective involvement in this war is the regional rivalry with Turkey. This competition, although the two countries are at the top of the row, is part of a larger alignment. These two sides of the field can be drawn as follows:

• Turkey, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
• The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other governments opposed to the Brotherhood.

The rivalry between the two countries, especially on the Emirati side, intensified in other geopolitical areas even beyond the Middle East and North Africa after the escalation of the regional rivalry, especially after the escalation of the conflict in Libya which can be considered as a kind of proxy war between the UAE and Turkey. During the Libyan civil war the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with Russia, supported the forces of Haftar against the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord. The emirate recently entered the conflict between Turkey and Greece. In this conflict, France and Egypt initially provided Greece with a set of 18 Rafale fighter jets to counter Turkey. The UAE also expressed its readiness to hand over part of its fleet of F-16 Block 60 fighters to Greece. This fighter is one of the most advanced, and most expensive types of F-16s operating in the world. These measures could effectively shift the balance of air power in favor of Greece and pose a serious threat to Turkey.

Therefore, in case of escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which will lead to a more serious and wider entry of Turkey, we can expect the presence and indirect action of the UAE in support of Armenia to weaken Turkey's position in the region.


Following the weakening of cultural, identity, and even religious ties between Iran and the Caucasus region in the two centuries since the separation of these regions, especially in recent decades, with widespread activities of pan-Turkism, de-religionization, and falsification of history on one hand, On the other hand, the pure inaction and indifference of the government of Iran to this issue in the Caucasus region and even the northeastern regions within its territory, can be said that a serious and vital geopolitical priority for Iran has not remained in these regions. Also, the South Caucasus region, especially the Republic of Azerbaijan, has become a hub for the presence and activity of the Israeli intelligence services against Iran, and beyond that, the Republic of Azerbaijan has established extensive military and economic relations with this regime. The scope of this Israeli activity was such that, according to some reports, the origin of the Israeli Hermes 180 UAV, which invaded Iranian airspace a few years ago, was also the Republic of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan seems greedy for Iran's maritime and land borders and strongly supports separatist activities inside Iran. On the other hand, due to the presence of a population of several million Azeri-speaking ethnic groups in Iran, among which a group of separatist propaganda and historical-identity forgery has been widespread and credible, which of course was accompanied by the passivity and incompetence of government institutions. , Direct or indirect military and even political involvement of Iran in this conflict have been associated with risks. This issue can also be examined due to the presence of the Armenian minority in Iran, although they have a much smaller population and ethnic and separatist currents are less common among them.

• News has been published that Turkey has transferred several terrorist militant groups from northern Syria to Azerbaijan. As such an action by Turkey has a history in Libya too, the possibility of repeating such a scenario near the Iranian border to the plain is high, which could pose significant risks to Iran's national security.
• Also, Turkey is likely to turn this conflict into another chessboard to advance its regional plans. The uncontrollable spread of the conflict, and the entry of more other countries, such as Turkey and the UAE, could pave the way for the presence of extra-regional powers, especially the United States, in the South Caucasus which could pose significant security and military risks against Iran.
• Eventually, Iran has seen more important geopolitical challenges in recent years in terms of political, economic, and military challenges, which puts the Caucasus at the bottom of Iran's geopolitical priorities. of course, given all of the above, this position can be changed!
• Even though Iran closed the borders on the Armenian side (of course, humanitarian and food are free to go, and even its borders to Turkey are open), it can’t receive heavy equipment from Russia unless Georgia reconsiders opening transport corridors, which could be possible if the war goes to a religious war. (Georgia, is an orthodox Christian country that is no longer helping its coreligionist because of the economic benefits it derives from Turkey and Azerbaijan.)

Similar scenarios for other countries such as the United States, France, and Israel can be considered, because so far, given the current situation, there is a significant possibility of effective actions of these countries.

The Chessboard and players move:

basic possible winning position:

Both main players have difficulties advancing or maintaining their position in the field because of the complexity of the land, and with this situation, they may struggle for years to occupy a hill. Since winter is very close, it is not easy to advance in winter, nor is it possible to maintain conquered areas in winter. So the winner is the one who quickly reaches the heights, establishes a secure logistic bridge, and can provide infrastructure at strategic points.

As a result, if the war is prolonged, the Nagorno-Karabakh region is likely to be depopulated. And this will not be good for both sides because they are not able to bring back their population, but it will create good conditions for the Azeri side to negotiate better over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians must also protect the population under any circumstances, even if the military resides there.


If Azerbaijan wants to win this war, should concentrate on Nagorno-Karabakh for a long the most important moves in the Azerbaijan game seem to be:

• restraining of deep advance into Armenian territory.
• No missiles must be fired at Armenian cities under any circumstances.
• Blocking the access roads of the Armenian army to Karabakh (destruction of roads) except for one or two routes (for the evacuation of civilians)
• Quick deployment with heliborne at strategic mountain heights and establishment of fast camps.
• Accelerate the improvement of relations with Iran.
• Requesting from Iran and Turkey to enter Nakhchivan, due to the possibility of Armenian retaliatory attack on Nakhchivan (Cross-cutting strategy: if you hit here, I will hit there)
• Efforts on the media dimension of the story and maintaining the moral superiority (the moral superiority could be projected on either side as long as the Azeris did not enter the Armenian cities and launch missiles)
• Azerbaijan may Face international sanctions because it is a Muslim country and has a high probability of condemnation in the structure of the UN administration and the Security Council. Therefore, in order not to go to the situation of being pinned down it will have to score points, especially against Iran. • The war is not just the beginning, Azeris could succeed by conquering and keeping the points under Armenian fire for a long time to the end.


If Armenia wants to win should keep this situation of war or not let Azerbaijan get anywhere, So its moves in the game should be as follows:

• Cease sending armored vehicles outside the cities.
• Destructing all roads from Karabakh to Azerbaijan except one or two routes (for the evacuation of civilians), installation of IEDs, and mining of routes.
• Installation of mobile artillery and heavy cannons in mountainous areas overlooking transit routes or possible geographical crossings.
• Advancing in capturing strategic heights.
• Preventing the political alliance of Azerbaijan with Iran.
• Trying to get Russia into the conflict.
• Taking advantage of the competitive gap between the UAE and Turkey and play the UAE against Turkey.
• After the war, despite the outcome, Armenia will win the battle, if try to receive general assistance from mostly wealthy Christian governments, and build an army many times stronger than the current army.


The best moves in Iran`s game can be listed as follows:

• maintaining neutrality and pursue diplomatic measures to establish a ceasefire and maintain peace and security in the South Caucasus.
• comprehensive military (hybrid) readiness to quickly and decisively repel any threat, in the event of widespread war and the risk of the border and territorial insecurity. In this case, comprehensive intelligence and military surveillance, as well as the conduct of offensive and defense military maneuvers in the northwestern region to maintain readiness and give the necessary warning signal to each of the countries involved in the conflict is recommended.
• As the Kurdistan Region independence referendum, Iran's policy here is on the need to preserve the territorial integrity of the countries in the region and the inviolability of borders. It has nothing to do with friendship or enmity with a particular country. Therefore, our position in this regard is the same for Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and of course the territory of our own country, Iran.
• Some may be worried in Iran about forming a crisis after the predictable victory of the Azeris or the presence of Syrian terrorists on Iran's borders. But the real concern is that the concept of which a territory of a country can be occupied and then be subject to the passage of time must be annihilated.


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