• USD90.19
  • EUR97.90
  • OIL81.6
  • 8777

Russia pushes Azerbaijan to attack Armenia, but Aliyev fears full-scale war due to Western sanctions threat, experts say

In recent weeks, Armenian authorities have been warning that Azerbaijan, which last year seized the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) region, is now preparing to attack Armenia itself. In a late February interview with France 24 TV, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijani authorities of not recognizing Armenia's territorial integrity, stating that an attack on his country is “highly likely.” Moreover, according to the Armenian side, Azerbaijani troops are currently occupying lands belonging to 31 Armenian villages, with the total occupied sovereign Armenian territory amounting to 170 square km.

The Insider spoke with regional experts about the likelihood of an Azerbaijani invasion, how prepared Armenia is for war, and what roles Russia, Turkey, and Western nations are playing in the developing situation.

The Likelihood of Invasion

Grant Mikaelian, Political Scientist, Economist, Senior Research Fellow at the Caucasus Institute (Yerevan)

“Over the past month, many signs indicate that the likelihood of a full-scale invasion has clearly increased. The negotiations have hit another impasse. Azerbaijan is ratcheting up its military rhetoric, largely connected to the recent snap presidential elections, held a year early, just as in 2020 before the war began [over Nagorno-Karabakh].
Azerbaijan demands Armenia create a corridor through its territory to connect Azerbaijan with Turkey in the south. However, Russia wants control over this road and has a preliminary agreement with Azerbaijan on this matter. Neither Armenia nor Iran and France desire this outcome. Consequently, a situation has arisen in which understanding between Russia and Armenia is severely strained.
There is also a scenario of a broader war. Azerbaijan is staking claims to Armenia's entire territory. Recently, [Azerbaijani president Ilhan] Aliyev referred to the border with Armenia as “conditional” in his speeches. Official documents are being issued stating all populated areas of Armenia bear alternative names. Three weeks ago, Aliyev ordered the mapping of all mineral deposits in Armenia, likely intending to seize them.”

Nerses Kopalyan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada (USA)

The likelihood of a full-scale invasion of Armenia remains quite low for three general reasons: first, Azerbaijan does not have sufficient international political capital to deal with the fallout of fully invading an entire country, which would also entail an invasion of Yerevan, the capital; second, the scale of death and destruction, on both sides, will be immense, thus making the whole endeavor exceedingly risky (and Aliyev, regardless of rumors, is a highly risk-averse actor); and third, considering the amount of political, economic, and now military investments that the collective West is making in Armenia, they are not going to tolerate a full-scale invasion. In this context, it is one thing to have flare-ups on the border, or for Azerbaijan to attack and take a position or two, or make incursions of few hundred kilometers, but the full-scale, entire invasion of Armenia is a whole different ball game, and the probability of Azerbaijan taking such a high-risk move seems quite unlikely.

Azerbaijani political commentator, currently residing in Switzerland, former political prisoner Rauf Mirgadirov:

“I believe the likelihood of full-scale war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is minimal at present. A war would not benefit Ilham Aliyev at this juncture. He is now a victorious president who has fully consolidated his power for a defined period. Any war brings new casualties, and in this case, justifying such losses would be far more difficult. Aliyev is cautious, with a strong self-preservation instinct. He is well aware that, with the exception of Russia and perhaps Iran, virtually all external players oppose war, a reality he cannot ignore.
It is doubtful Aliyev would want to face sanctions. He reaps enormous revenues from exporting oil, petroleum products, and gas – a business underpinning his personal authority that he is unlikely to jeopardize.”

Arif Yunusov, Head of the Conflict Studies Department at the Institute of Peace and Democracy, former Azerbaijani political prisoner, currently residing in the Netherlands:

“A full-scale invasion is unlikely, but short-term military actions along the border are possible. Aliyev's objective is to implement Russia's plans to destabilize the situation in Armenia. Moscow will attempt to capitalize on the fighting to incite pro-Russian protests there.”

Andrey Areshev, Political Commentator, Expert at the Foundation for Strategic Culture:

“Currently, there are no signs of armed preparations for a full-scale invasion. However, Baku will undoubtedly employ all means of armed pressure to achieve its goals, namely establishing a connection between Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia's Syunik region.
From what I understand, a few days ago, another meeting of the intergovernmental commission on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations took place, chaired by the deputy prime ministers from both sides. Still, judging by the limited information available, progress appears minimal. This opens up opportunities for wider escalation, although I don't anticipate a large-scale conflict. Nevertheless, localized attacks cannot be ruled out.
It seems Baku will attempt to exert pressure through information campaigns and alliance formations, primarily with Turkey. We know the Armenian-Turkish negotiation process is directly tied to the state of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, with Ankara stating no progress will occur until Yerevan agrees to Baku's conditions. I believe Azerbaijan will also exploit any serious deterioration in Russian-Armenian relations.”

Preparedness for War

The 44-day war for Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrated that the Armenian army is significantly outmatched by Azerbaijan's forces, as Azerbaijan managed to capture a substantial portion of the region. When Azerbaijan launched another offensive in September 2023, the Armenian army did not engage in the fighting, and the Artsakh defense forces were compelled to surrender. During an attack on Armenia's sovereign territory in September 2022, Azerbaijani troops advanced into Armenian territory and entrenched themselves there. Moreover, it is well-known that Azerbaijan receives significant supplies of modern weaponry from Turkey and Israel, while Armenia has only recently begun procuring armaments from France and India, while at the same time accusing Russia of failing to deliver weapons ordered and paid for by Yerevan.

Grant Mikaelian

“Primarily, the administrative apparatus must be prepared for war, yet Armenia's military leadership has experienced constant upheaval, with numerous generals under investigation. Effectively, a conflict exists between the government and the military. On the other hand, new weapons are being supplied from abroad, but they comprise diverse systems lacking cohesive integration. At this juncture, it is impossible to seriously argue that Armenia is ready for war. Furthermore, the border military infrastructure is ill-prepared, with feeble fortifications. Regrettably, over the past three years, little progress has been made on the new frontlines to adequately prepare for renewed hostilities.”

Nerses Kopalyan

“In the domain of high-intensity, localized invasions, or hybrid warfare, Armenia remains at a severe disadvantage, since the power asymmetry is heavily tilted towards Azerbaijan. Armenia's border areas are generally manned by conscripts, or else by a selective set of contracted/career soldiers, but they are not manned by highly-trained military platoons or special forces; on the other hand, when Azerbaijan undertakes localized incursions, they almost always use their special forces in a surgical fashion. This has been the modality of invasions/incursions that Azerbaijan has utilized against Armenia since 2021
But if the question is scaled up to an all-out war, then the dynamics are different. The Armenian armed forces are not the same armed forces as they were in 2020, since there have been qualitative improvements in training, NCO modeling, mission and command structures, and access to advanced weapons systems from France and India. Qualitatively and comparatively speaking, Azerbaijan still maintains an exponential advantage; however, the modality of warfare has shifted. Armenia, unlike in 2020, no longer has a military doctrine defined by full-frontal warfare that is akin to the Russo-Soviet model. Rather, Armenia has been slowly adopting and developing a small-state resiliency model, something more akin to a porcupine strategy. In this context, as far as Armenia's preparedness goes, the capacity and level of preparation is not specific to undertaking an offensive war, but rather, implementing a doctrine known as deterrence-by-denial. Thus, in more simple terms, Armenia is not trying to win a war, but rather to make an attack so costly that Azerbaijan will refrain from attacking, and that if it does attack, it would be deterred from continuing due to the high rate of losses.
Finally, an important component of preparedness must also address the Russia factor. Namely, whereas before 2020 Armenia falsely believed in the Russian security architecture (i.e., that Russia would fulfill its treaty obligations if Armenia is attacked), it no longer live under this false sense of security.”

Role of Russia

Russia has openly claimed its stake in the South Caucasus — alongside the broader post-Soviet domain — as part of its sphere of direct interests. Historically, Armenia stood as Russia's closest ally in the region, boasting membership in both the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Customs Union. However, recent events, notably Russia's perceived lack of support for Yerevan during Azerbaijan's assaults on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper, have eroded trust in Moscow. Consequently, Armenian authorities have shifted their focus, with Pashinyan emphasizing the necessity to “diversify security alliances” by fostering ties with alternative partners. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry leveled accusations of “unfriendly steps,” coupled with thinly veiled threats.

Grant Mikaelian

“Russia supports Azerbaijan's aggression. Russia does not like Armenia's policy after 2018, and Russia has chosen this strategy of undermining it. Russia generally takes this approach to post-Soviet countries — either a country will be maximally friendly towards Russia, or Russia will pursue a policy of undermining its statehood. I'm afraid that in relation to Armenia, the decision has already been made, and the pressure will increase, judging by the rhetoric of Russian officials, especially representatives of the Foreign Ministry. They have already completely synchronized with Azerbaijan.”

Arif Yunusov

“In 2018, a revolution began in Armenia. Pashinyan came to power and started a campaign against Russian forces, arresting Putin's personal friend Kocharyan. Putin himself called Pashinyan and asked him to release Kocharyan, even publicly congratulating him on his birthday when he was in prison. Putin's level is Biden, leaders of big countries, not some head of Armenia or Azerbaijan. And so he calls Pashinyan, demands to release his man, and Pashinyan tells him not to interfere in the country's internal affairs. This offended Putin. He's a vindictive person, and after that, Azerbaijan was given the go-ahead to act.
In 2020, Azerbaijan would not have started military actions <[n Nagorno-Karabakh] without Russia's consent. Pashinyan thought that Russia should take the side of its strategic ally in the Caucasus, namely Armenia, and did not believe that Russia would not come to the rescue. He called Putin several times a day, and Putin said: ‘We are neutral. The fighting is taking place on Azerbaijani territory. If they attack [internationally recognized Armenian territory], then the CSTO will come to help.’
For the first time in a quarter of a century, Russian troops appeared on Azerbaijani territory in the status of peacekeeping forces, but they do not intend to leave in 2025 [as is called for under the current agreement]. Putin has said more than once since then, especially in 2022: ‘We have come for a long time, and the peacekeeping troops will not leave.’ He plans to leave the Karabakh conflict to future generations. The main thing for him is to extend the presence of Russian troops for 10-15 years.
There are no Armenians in Karabakh now. So what is the point of a 2,000-strong peacekeeping contingent? Russia says they are guarding some equipment and weapons left behind by the Karabakh Armenians. But that equipment was all transferred to Ukraine [for use by the Russian army] within a few days. After that, they said they need to guard Armenian homes from looting. Nonsense.
In December of last year, in St. Petersburg, Putin proposed to Pashinyan: ‘Give your consent for the European peacekeepers [EU Civilian Mission in Armenia (EUMA)] to leave the border; instead, mine will be there. We can call them CSTO troops.’ Pashinyan categorically refused, because in Armenia they perfectly understand the role of Azerbaijan: it is an instrument of pressure from Moscow and Putin on Pashinyan and Armenia. We used to say that Armenia is Russia's outpost, but now Azerbaijan plays that role.

In Putin's vision, the post-Soviet landscape falls under Russia's sway, with independent states expected to align with Moscow's foreign policy objectives, eschewing Western influences such as NATO.”

Nerses Kopalyan

“It is in Russia's strategic interest for Azerbaijan to undertake attacks against Armenia, as this will make the security situation untenable for Armenia while leading, the Kremlin hopes, to the collapse of Armenia's democratic system.
Both Aliyev's interests and those of Russia are aligned on this matter. This is also consistent with regards to the issue of the so-called “Zangezur Corridor,” which is a Russo-Azerbaijani construct designed to not only further weaken Armenia, but to simply hand over control of the entirety of the middle belt of the country to the Russians. Note that the logic of the Zangezur Corridor is as follows: while Azerbaijan will have unhindered access to the corridor, the corridor will be monitored and manned by Russian troops, while Armenian troops and border guards must remain 2.5 kilometers away from the corridor on both sides. Simply put, there would be no Armenian presence in an area 5 kilometers wide and approximately 60 kilometers in length running across southern Armenia. For all intents and purposes, Russia will have autonomous control over sovereign Armenian territory, while Azerbaijan will have permission to use this space in agreement with the Russians. Conceptually, this allows Russia to reestablish control and dominance over Armenia (which it has now completely lost), while giving Baku unhindered access to its enclave of Nakhichevan. That’s why Putin is now pressuring Aliyev to invade Armenia and secure the Zangezur Corridor, because Putin needs it to reestablish dominance over Armenia. Aliyev, on the other hand, would want nothing more than unhindered access to Nakhichevan, but at the moment, the entire risk and burden of attacking Armenia and creating the corridor falls on Azerbaijan, while Russia will swoop in after and reap the benefits. This is not lost on Aliyev.
That being said, the prevailing rumors, or what one may deduce from developments, suggests that Aliyev must return the favor: Putin allowed Aliyev to take over Nagorno-Karabakh and ethnically cleanse the region of its Armenian population right under the watchful eyes of the Russian peacekeepers, and this was done in return for Aliyev's promise of delivering the Zangezur Corridor to the Russians.”

The Role of Turkey

Since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, Turkey has become Baku’s closest partner, with their respective leaders, Ilham Aliyev and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, advocating the concept of “One Nation, Two States.” Since at least 2013, the two countries have conducted joint military exercises. In 2020, Turkey assisted Azerbaijan in capturing part of Nagorno-Karabakh, supplying Azerbaijan with military equipment, notably armed drones, and, reportedly, fighters on the ground.

Armenia's relations with Turkey have traditionally been hostile. Turkey still denies the Armenian Genocide perpetrated from 1915 to 1923 and continues to pose a threat to Armenia today. Nevertheless, diplomatic relations between the countries are maintained; earlier in March, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan revealed that active negotiations are underway to open the land border.

Grant Mikaelian

“Erdoğan is Aliyev's main patron. Putin wants to occupy this position but cannot. Roughly 90% of Azerbaijan's army officers graduated from courses in Turkey. Essentially, it's the same army. The merging of these two states is happening under the slogan 'One Nation, Two States.'
Russia wants to maintain control but cannot, while Aliyev tries to leverage this to his advantage. Aliev is trying to balance Erdoğan's growing influence in Azerbaijan against Baku’s continuing relations with Russia. This asymmetric external influence on Azerbaijan largely contributes to all the wars in the region. Due to Russian and Turkish foreign policies, Azerbaijan has become aggressive and uncompromising. There were agreements that could have been formalized already, and Armenia was ready for that, but Azerbaijan rejected all of it and pursued a military scenario. Erdoğan plays the leading role here, certainly.”

Nerses Kopalyan

“As far as Erdoğan is concerned, his position has generally been exaggerated, in my opinion, and this is due to the fact that Baku-Ankara relations are not a master-slave, patron-satellite relationship, but rather one of an older brother supporting the decisions of its younger brother. To this end, Erdoğan has consistently supported whatever decision Aliyev has made with respect to Armenia, and as long as Baku's decisions do not contradict the will of Ankara (and as far as the South Caucasus go, this rarely, if ever, happens), Erdoğan will continue supporting the aspirations of the Aliyev regime.

Erdoğan has also used Baku as an intervening variable in its relations with Russia. Erdoğan remains content with Baku's role in the region and will continue supporting Aliyev's endeavor of making Azerbaijan the mini-hegemon of the region.”

Rauf Mirgadirov

“The influence of Turkey on Russia's foreign policy has significantly strengthened, particularly following Russia's incursion into Ukraine. This encompasses the export of energy resources through Turkey, bypassing sanctions, and receiving propagandistic support from Turkey, among other aspects. It's crucial to note that Russia and Turkey share a wide spectrum of relations, extending beyond just Karabakh to encompass the Black Sea, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, and the Middle East.
However, there exist numerous contradictions between Russia and Turkey, rendering their alliance temporary and tactical. These are two continental empires destined to vie for control over more territories.
Karabakh holds immense significance in Erdoğan's domestic politics. Erdoğan's primary electoral base comprises Islamists and nationalists, with no other significant allies remaining within the country. For Islamists and nationalists, the Karabakh issue assumes paramount importance — it's viewed as a show of solidarity with blood brothers, namely the Azerbaijanis, who are both a Turkic ethnic group and a Muslim population. Erdoğan portrays this victory as a collective triumph, a narrative that Azerbaijan supports.”

Arif Yunusov

“Turkey played a pivotal role in 2020. Thanks to Turkey, the Azerbaijani army underwent significant reform, modeling itself after the Turkish army and adopting NATO standards. Erdoğan was aware that Russia had given its approval to Azerbaijan for this conflict, but he harbored hopes of joint regional dominance with Putin post-war. However, Putin unequivocally informed Erdoğan, ‘This isn't Syria. The South Caucasus is within my sphere of influence, and your interference here is unwelcome.’ Erdoğan's aspirations were dashed. Putin threw him a token gesture — a minor and inconsequential information center in Agdam, where 60 Turkish officers pass time playing backgammon. Consequently, Turkish troops almost entirely withdrew from Azerbaijan in 2020, leaving Erdoğan deeply dissatisfied with Aliyev, who failed to support him.
Since then, the dynamics have shifted. Presently, Turkey views Azerbaijan's actions against Armenia with less enthusiasm. Essentially, following the Munich meeting, during Aliyev's visit to Turkey [in February], Erdoğan, subtly alluding to Russia, spoke of the disruptive role of a third party. While many initially thought he was referring to France, his remarks were directed at Russia.
Turkey recognizes that a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia would provoke strong Western reactions, which is not in Turkey's interest. Consequently, Turkey is now less actively supporting Azerbaijan; instead, it seeks to mitigate tensions and prevent a further escalation of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

Andrey Areshev

“Turkey is active on all fronts. Recently, we've seen assurances that contacts between Pashinyan and Erdoğan are maintained regularly, with discussions revolving around the necessity of opening the Armenian-Turkish land border. However, there is an obstacle: the signing of a peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan is required, as in this scenario, Armenia would be firmly integrated into the ‘Turkish economic belt.’
The Turkish side is actively working to bolster this trend because the Caucasus holds importance for Turkey as a link connecting it to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. This constitutes the so-called middle corridor, serving as an alternative trade and economic route compared to those passing through Russia and Belarus, which are currently frozen for well-known reasons.”

Western Position

Since the early 2000s, the United States has provided military assistance to Azerbaijan under the pretext of containing Iran. It wasn't until 2023 that a number of congressmen began pushing to end this practice. In November, the U.S. Senate passed the Armenia Protection Act, which proposes a ban on military aid to Baku. For the most part, the European Union had until recently refrained from intervening in the affairs of the South Caucasus. However, in July 2022, as part of a gradual shift away from purchasing energy resources from Russia, the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Azerbaijan regarding strategic energy partnership. France is considered Armenia's main ally in Europe, but even Paris had offered only verbal support to Yerevan until recently.

Grant Mikaelian

“In March 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution against the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is currently happening at an alarming rate. Every day, we receive news of destroyed monuments, churches, and so on. On the other hand, just recently, the European Parliament passed a new resolution condemning Azerbaijan's aggression, its ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh, and so forth. There are statements that ethnic cleansing is a red line, but actions speak louder than words. On one hand, the West has certain interests here because, thanks to Turkish and Azerbaijani diplomacy, the West and Russia are now competing to be closer to Azerbaijan. On the other hand, the West is not deeply immersed in this region and does not consider it a priority.”

Nerses Kopalyan

“There is a consistent pattern of Western nations more directly and concretely criticizing Azerbaijan, while supporting and offering diplomatic capital to Armenia. In essence, after September of 2022, Azerbaijan's caviar diplomacy fully collapsed, and Baku no longer enjoys favor in the E.U., in many Western capitals, or in the United States. It is an open secret that what has deterred Aliyev from attacking Armenia in the last two years has been the threat of U.S. sanctions; thus, it is American, and the collective Western diplomatic pressure, that has deterred Aliyev from its more egregious objectives.
More than that, the U.S. has agreed to begin talks to potentially sell weapons to Armenia, while leading the NCO training and mission-and-command programs with Armenia's military.”

Arif Yunusov

“In October of last year, the Americans, via diplomatic channels, informed Aliyev of their awareness that Azerbaijani troops were amassed along the border with Armenia in preparation for potential conflict. They conveyed that while they acknowledged Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory, any incursion into sovereign Armenian territory would elicit a different response. In reaction, a disgruntled Aliyev initiated arrests from among pro-Western factions within Azerbaijan. The West disregarded the snap elections [in Azerbaijan]. Notably, during his February 14th inauguration, Aliyev omitted any mention of Western countries, a departure from his previous four inaugural speeches, in which he had referenced them. The Americans presented him with an ultimatum: either align with us or with Putin. Opting for the latter would result in sanctions and other consequences. The European Parliament has issued two resolutions concerning Azerbaijan and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. Furthermore, assistance has begun to flow to Armenia, despite the drain on Western resources caused by the war in Ukraine.”

The so-called “Zangezur Corridor” Azerbaijan wants to be granted access to a narrow strip of land with extraterritorial status running through Armenia in order to connect its exclave Nakhchivan region to the rest of the country.

In 2020, during the Second Karabakh War, or “44-day war,” Azerbaijan captured part of Nagorno-Karabakh, expelling the Armenian population from the seized territories.

The attack by the Azerbaijani army on Armenia resulted in over 200 deaths and the occupation of Armenian territory.

In 2020, during the Second Karabakh War, or “44-day war,” Azerbaijan captured part of Nagorno-Karabakh, expelling the Armenian population from the seized territories.

This term is most commonly applied to Taiwan and refers to asymmetric approaches to defense against a clearly stronger adversary, such as the widespread use of man-portable air defense and anti-tank systems.

In Western terminology, this refers to deterring an adversary from taking certain actions by creating conditions in which the success of those actions would be either too unlikely or too costly.

Robert Kocharyan, President of Armenia from 1998–2008.

 In 2020, during the Second Karabakh War, or “44-day war,” Azerbaijan captured part of Nagorno-Karabakh, expelling the Armenian population from the seized territories.

The attack by the Azerbaijani army on Armenia resulted in over 200 deaths and the occupation of Armenian territory.

«Caviar diplomacy» is the term used to describe a long-standing Azerbaijani practice involving the use of corruption to establish a network of loyal politicians, public figures, and journalists in the West in order to promote Baku’s interests.

Subscribe to our weekly digest

К сожалению, браузер, которым вы пользуйтесь, устарел и не позволяет корректно отображать сайт. Пожалуйста, установите любой из современных браузеров, например:

Google Chrome Firefox Safari