Is Azerbaijan preparing to invade Armenia?

Thousands of Azerbaijani and Turkish soldiers participated in military drills this week in locations across Azerbaijan, including in the newly seized territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan took Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning 24-hour offensive last month, decades after the majority-Armenian enclave unilaterally declared independence, and months after Baku imposed a total siege around it.

More than 100,000 resident ethnic Armenians have since fled to Armenia.

Now, some warn this week’s exercises could be a prelude to further conquest. Expansionist politicians in Azerbaijan (including President Ilham Aliyev) have long eyed a land bridge to Nakhchivan, an exclave separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia’s 30km-wide Syunik Province.

So on Monday, the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia met their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts for peace talks in Tehran, “without the presence of foreigners” (i.e., without US or EU officials).

Meanwhile, Western players like France have been selling Armenia additional military kit, while the US has conducted (small) drills with Armenian troops – all part of an effort to deter another Azerbaijani move.

Intrigue’s take: Armenia is now isolated. It’s wedged between two foes (Azerbaijan and Turkey), its traditional security guarantor (Russia) is bogged down, and Western support for Armenia has seemed pretty symbolic to date.

An invasion could be unimaginably ugly. Yet regular readers will know by now: in this world of ours, we increasingly need to imagine the unimaginable.

Also worth noting:

  • The US and Europe have yet to issue sanctions on Azerbaijan for its seizure of Karabakh. There’s speculation this is partly due to Azerbaijan’s leverage as a major gas exporter.
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