Karabakh summer: risks grow against the background of new losses
Alarming news come from Nagorno-Karabakh for two days in a row. According to a report by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, Azerbaijani soldier Sultan Shahvaladov was killed on the morning of June 16 "while preventing provocation of the Armenian Armed Forces." Azerbaijan's military response did not take long. On the evening of the same day Armenia's Defense Ministry reported about the death of three soldiers - Araik Matinyan, Vigen Petrosyan and Vardan Sargsyan - as a result of attack of Azerbaijani side.
This morning Karabakh separatists already spread information about the death of another soldier, Narek Gasparyan. Armenia also recognizes that there are several seriously injured people, who have already been brought to Yerevan for treatment. In turn, Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan claims that yesterday, Armenia actually lost not three, but five soldiers. It's interesting that the Ministry even published names of two killed soldiers, which Armenian authorities allegedly didn't tell: Myasnik Ovannisyan and Vardan Harutyunyan.
What exactly happened at the front is unknown. However, if we look at the chronology of yesterday's events, we are talking about an act of retribution of Azerbaijani side. This also fits the logic of statements of Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, who warned that Azerbaijan will respond to every provocation of Armenian side.
Latest developments in the region are, first of all, a headache for Armenian authorities. Starting from April of last year, it becomes more difficult for the government of Serzh Sargsyan to explain failures at the front to the public. After April clashes of 2016 and Armenia's loss of a number of territories in Karabakh, Serzh Sargsyan dismissed key figures in the country's military command, including Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan. Then Sargsyan appointed absolutely loyal Vigen Sargsyan, who was not a military man and does not possess military charisma of his predecessor, who won the Karabakh war while being in the army.
Vigen Sargsyan is making efforts to increase the attractiveness of Armenian army - first of all, through additional financial bonuses for soldiers. However, judging by combat reports, new Defense Minister was unable to achieve an advantageous position or at least parity at the front. Losses of Armenian army, officially recognized by Armenian side, were around 30 soldiers of various ranks since the beginning of this year. In addition, this year Azerbaijani side repeatedly provided video evidences of destruction of Armenian military equipment to the public, but Armenian side stubbornly denied the fact of any losses. At the same time, a large number of "non-combat" incidents with fatal outcome in Armenian army, coinciding with outbreak of hostilities in Karabakh, is also alarming. There are a lot of reasons to assume that Armenia Defense Ministry manipulates information in favor of internal political interests of the authorities.
Finally, statistic in the unrecognized "defense army" of Karabakh separatists also raises serious doubts, since Karabakh regime is a "black hole" in legal sense, and getting reliable information from it is very difficult.
The fact that Armenian army became less effective in recent years has become a serious problem for the government. This explains persistent desire of Armenian side to establish cameras along front line and completely tie Azerbaijan's hands using various mechanisms to prevent front-line incidents, while preserving status quo. Obviously, Baku will never agree to this deal, since it will basically mean voluntary refusal to restore its own territorial integrity. Azerbaijan believes that such measures on the front line should be tied to substantive negotiations and liberation of at least some of the occupied territories by Armenia. Despite bloody clashes in April of 2016 and constant warnings of analytical centers about the risk of another escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, peace talks are practically frozen at the moment. The world and regional powers are focused on the Middle East. South Caucasus is not even in the top five of priority issues of world politics. In its June 1 report, International Crisis Group warned that a new war in Karabakh today is more likely compared to previous decades. Summer of 2017 in Karabakh can be very hot.