Guns, gold and gas: A precooked ceasefire and British soft power

The last episode of the Eastern Approaches Podcast, published in October 2020, was recorded during the fighting phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh War between oil-rich Western ally Azerbaijan and resource-poor Russian ally Armenia over the ethnic-Armenian highland enclave of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which foreign countries recognise as part of Azerbaijan despite the Armenian locals' assertion of self-determination in response to a genocide that was beginning to be perpetrated upon them during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

We were prompted to revert to the topic in this new episode by the unexpected end to the war shortly after recording the last episode. The strategic hilltop city of Shushi (Şuşa) fell to Azerbaijani forces with barely a shot fired — all the more inexplicable given Armenian control of the only proper road up to the town. Was there a betrayal? Did Russia seize the moment as a pretext for a strategically useful permanent presence in this narrow bottleneck zone between Turkey and the Turkic republics of Central Asia? Is the West angling for a new pipeline route that doesn't have to dog-leg around Armenia inconveniently?

In this episode, we look first to Azerbaijan's glove-puppet role on behalf of its big brother Turkey, whose strained regional relations we considered in the first podcast, and for Israel, whose officers were caught in 2017 operating military drones to shoot Armenian soldiers as a sales gimmick. Turkish drones, with Ukrainian engines (and now licensed for Saudi manufacture too), and Israeli drones have increasingly been swinging the fortunes of wars between third-party countries. Their effectiveness is not perfect but both countries' focus on drone production seems to have inaugurated an era of drone warfare, in which middle-tier powers with cash to spend can wipe out better-drilled and better-motivated troops despite the latter's home-front advantage.

Other key observations in the first half of the podcast, before we get on to the British and American deep state interests, include:

- the limits of any alleged parallels with Kosovo, Ukrainian regions and Transnistria (Moldova), given the different international law situations of the territories in question;

- Russia's strategic decision to concentrate on effective weaponry of immediate effect to ensure national survival in the face of Western defence outspending;

- the drawbacks for any small nation of relying on a Russian, or any other power's, "friendly" security blanket;

- the rise of Turkey's game-changing alliances with former Communist countries skilled in military engineering, notably Ukraine and Hungary;

- and the three-way contention between Turkey, Russia and France (in the "European Defence Union" guise) for hegemony in the Middle East.

The second half of the podcast evaluates the longer-term situation on the ground, now that the shooting is over so unexpectedly soon.

Gevorg Virats offers the observation, surprising perhaps to some, that European interests and Russian interests are unlikely to clash severely enough to lead to warfare, but that Turkish interests and Russian interests very much could catalyse war in the region.

As for US interests in the region, they are no longer decisive; they are quite obviously split between the originally Marxist neoconservatives (whose overt loyalty has hopped to the Republican Party), who adulate Big Oil, and the "Biden-Harris" Administration, with its "zero-carbon" obsession (typically regarded by Russian-speaking analysts as a City of London model of economic warfare to collapse the price of oil to destroy geopolitical adversaries). We explore these internal Washington tensions as seen from the former Soviet Union.

Also in the final half-hour of the podcast, we turn to British interests in the region. Is Britain, in its foreign policy in the region, now a glorified shill for Ankara? Who leads that pro-Azeri British foreign policy — the FCDO (Foreign Office) or BP?

Gevorg Virats recalls the era of formation of the republics around the Caspian, in the years immediately following the First World War (before they fell to the Red Army), and goes so far as to state that Azerbaijan could not have come into being without the corporate Crown's interests shaping the field. He also notes that no proof has been forthcoming that Armenian President Armen Sargsyan ever renounced his British citizenship.

The implicit conclusion of our discussion is that the USA is no longer seriously in the running for hegemony in the Caucasus and that the British deep state is playing the role of economic éminence grise, out for resources and control of key nodes. Should we feel pity for outgunned, deceived Armenia? Not according to Gevorg Virats; it has just eluded the clutches of "utterly immoral" oil wealth and its enfeebling entanglements, which boil down to "considering a pile of dosh before your own citizens' interests".