India replaces Russia as Armenia's "arms sponsor". Will it "fight for Artsakh"?

24.08.23 18:45

Russia's aggression against Ukraine has severely limited the Kremlin's ability to support Armenia, its "ally" in the South Caucasus. The weapons that Moscow could have supplied to Yerevan are now needed on the "Ukrainian front" itself. According to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia was the largest exporter of major weapons to Armenia between 2011 and 2020, supplying almost all of the country's army's major weapons during that period. But after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, deliveries were effectively halted. In May 2023, Armenia even complained that Russia was continuing to violate arms export contracts, including those already paid for by the Armenian side.

As a result, Russia's role in Armenia's military support is declining, while that of Iran and India has increased dramatically. The regime in Yerevan is actively arming itself, and despite Armenia's outwardly 'peace-loving' rhetoric, the threat of a 'great war' in the region remains very real. It is no coincidence that the Armenian authorities have approved a 46% increase in the defence budget for 2023 to $1.3 billion. And a significant part of this budget increase is accounted for by arms purchases from India.

It has become known that Russia and India have recently transferred a large amount of weapons and military equipment to Armenia through the territory of Iran. Iran itself has also been involved in the transfer of weapons of its own production. An unnamed source in the special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Sepah-e-Qods, confirmed to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that "a large amount of equipment and ammunition" had been delivered to Yerevan, two days after Azerbaijani and Iranian media published videos of Indian military vehicles being transferred to Armenia via Iran. He noted that based on a joint decision by Russia, Iran and India, a large number of high-quality weapons, including drones, tracked vehicles for transporting soldiers, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, as well as Russian and Indian radar systems, had been sent to Armenia via Iranian territory in recent weeks. According to him, "these steps are aimed at creating a balance of power to deter Azerbaijan, Turkey and Israel and prevent them from occupying Armenia's Syunik region".

The source also said that Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has personally ordered to prevent this, "even if it requires the intervention of the Iranian armed forces to support Armenia in case it is unable to resist".

According to him, the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces has received permission from Khamenei to train Iranian Armenians and send them to Yerevan for military service. It is reported that "the IRGC has begun training Iranian Armenians to serve in Yerevan".

The obvious aim of Iran and the IRGC is to prevent the Zangezur corridor 'connecting' Turkey and Azerbaijan from functioning. This corridor does not suit India either. Firstly, because New Delhi is concerned about cooperation between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan. India clearly fears that the Zangezur corridor, together with the possibility of a link through Central Asian countries and Pakistan's economically dependent Afghanistan, will give Turkey and Pakistan more opportunities to communicate in the future.

As an alternative to the East-West corridor, India and Iran are promoting the North-South corridor linking the Indian Ocean with Russia, and they intend to develop it not by the most convenient route - through Azerbaijan - but through Armenia. As for India's cooperation with the Russian Federation, Russia's trade turnover with India has increased dramatically after Russia's international isolation due to its aggression against Ukraine.

Moreover, India is taking full advantage of Russia's predicament, buying oil from Russia at a cheap price for its own rupees, and then actively reselling some of the Russian oil on the world market for a more "hard" currency.

It seems that Armenia wants to be the first precedent for India's "geopolitical leap" beyond its subcontinent. After all, unlike China, India has until recently rarely interfered in the affairs of countries far from its shores.
It is no coincidence that on 22 August, published an article by Svenja Petersen, a Berlin-based political economist and researcher specialising in the former Soviet Union, entitled "Pakistan and India fight indirectly in Nagorno-Karabakh":

"The India-Pakistan standoff is usually associated with the perennial Kashmir conflict. But few are aware of the two countries' growing involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

For these two South Asian adversaries, the Kashmir conflict has a sequel in Karabakh, with both states supplying arms to the warring sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan. While Pakistan has sided with Azerbaijan since the outbreak of the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s, India only entered the fray as an arms supplier to Armenia after Yerevan's crushing defeat in the Second Karabakh War in 2020.

Pakistan's support for Azerbaijan reflects Islamabad's close strategic relationship with Turkey, Baku's main patron. The Pakistani government was the second, after Turkey, to recognise Azerbaijan's independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, while failing to recognise Armenia's independence. Since 2016, Pakistani and Azerbaijani military officials have reportedly conducted joint exercises and maintained extensive strategic security contacts. According to unconfirmed official reports, Pakistani military advisors participated in the Second Karabakh War, providing tactical advice on operations in the Karabakh highlands. Some experts believe that Islamabad may sell JF-17 fighter jets, a joint Chinese-Pakistani development, to Azerbaijan.

In the autumn, India stepped up its support by sending Armenia artillery systems, anti-tank missiles and other types of ammunition worth a total of $245 million. In May, Yerevan announced the addition of a military attaché to its embassy in New Delhi to deepen bilateral military cooperation.

Increased Indian support could prove crucial to Armenia's efforts to counter Azerbaijan's strategic pressure in Karabakh. Russia, traditionally Yerevan's strategic partner, has become bogged down in its monstrous war in Ukraine and now appears to have neither the resources nor the will to promote lasting peace in the region. Yerevan hopes that India's support will act as a counterweight to the support Azerbaijan receives from Turkey, Pakistan and Israel. ....

India is also looking to Armenia for potential economic opportunities. New Delhi hopes to capitalise on arms supplies to fill the gap left by Russia's reduced strategic presence in the Caucasus. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that India is itself a major importer of Russian arms, with around three-quarters of its military equipment coming from Russia. And Moscow is finding it increasingly difficult to fulfil export orders as it tries to make up for losses in the fighting in Ukraine. The Indian arms industry is thus faced with the daunting task of meeting its own growing needs while also supplying Armenia.”

It is clear that India is transferring its 'confrontation' with Pakistan to the South Caucasus. However, all of India's "military moves" in the South Caucasus depend on the extent to which Russia will be able to cope with the challenges posed by the current war in Ukraine. After all, it is very difficult for India to become a full-fledged "arms substitute" for Russia in Armenia today. Not to mention the Indian army fighting for Armenian interests in Karabakh.

At the same time, the prolongation of the Ukrainian war puts the Armenian revanchists in a "tight time frame" if they cannot get out of this war before the mandate of the peacekeepers in Karabakh ends. And then all attempts to 'save' Artsakh militarily with the help of Russia or even Iran and India will be in vain.
Nevertheless, Armenian revanchist circles may deliberately play on India's interest in cooperation with Russia and the formation of corridors in order to link the Russian-Indian-Iranian alliance with the "blood shed to save Armenians from genocide". India, which even has problems with its own weapons, is already trying to replace Russia in the supply of arms to Armenia.

A "great war" over Karabakh, especially with the joint participation of Russia, Iran and India, is a direct threat to Georgia's security and statehood. Russia could eliminate Georgian statehood altogether. The Kremlin is already threatening to move from occupation to direct annexation of Abkhazia and Samara. Such a prospect was recently expressed directly by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who recognised the separatists' 'independence' in 2008. Moreover, in order to "save the Armenians of Artsakh", the Russian Federation can open a "military corridor" through the rest of Georgia, thus cutting off the North-South corridor in its Georgian part.

Alexander Gedevanov

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