Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Sitrep - 6 April, 2016

The frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan heated up over the weekend, killing dozens of soldiers in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Fighting has since cooled after Azerbaijan, which is being blamed for starting the clash, declared a unilateral ceasefire.

The two countries fought a war after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ended by a ceasefire accord in 1994. Control over the borders was never resolved and skirmishes have been a fixture of the Caucasus region ever since. However, both sides have powerful patrons and a flare-up may draw those powers in.

Armenia is a Russian client-state and a Turkish enemy – given the latter’s genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century. Azerbaijan however is supported by Turkey and has political, ethnic and religious ties to Iran. The deterioration of relations between the three regional powers in the recent past makes this particularly deadly clash geopolitically important to watch.

Further west, the US announced an increased troop commitment in Eastern Europe of an extra armoured brigade by 2017. The new forces bring US strength in Europe to three brigades and airforce units totalling 60,000 servicemen. The troops are on rotation through a series of Eastern European countries as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a NATO rotational deployment organised to bolster US support in the region as a response to Russian aggression.

However, the US think tank RAND Corporation estimates seven brigades would at minimum be needed to slow a serious Russian advance into Former Soviet Union countries. The troops nevertheless form a tripwire, virtually guaranteeing US involvement in any larger war. Despite the increase, the new brigade doesn’t change the military status quo.

What may alter the dynamics are recently announced talks between Washington and Iceland to reopen an air station on the island. During the Cold War, controlling the strategic gap between Iceland and the UK ensured NATO Atlantic reinforcements wouldn’t be harassed by Russian submarines. Now, with increased Russian nuclear submarine activity, Iceland is becoming important once more.

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