TB: Pro-war protests in Baku spun out of control on the night from July 14 – 15, after several thousand protesters broke into the building of the parliament. Azerbaijani government used this protest as a pretext on the crackdown of opposition activists from the Popular Front Party. Although, it seems that for now that Aliyev’s government managed to reap dividends from this situation, could similar mass calls for a military solution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict potentially endanger the current regime in Baku?
ES: Azerbaijani government claims that the given protest was sanctioned, and it is possible, but there is a massive problem because it can backfire. You have thousands and thousands of people taking into the streets and calling for a new war with Armenia. This warmongering public opinion is going to press the government into decisions, the rational government might not be willing to take under normal circumstances. So the public opinion is going to create a very massive pressure on the Azerbaijani government and Baku might do things it is not willing to do, just to avoid severe backlash from the society resulting in the loss of credibility. But on the other hand, Baku faces severe economic problems and short, successful war as the one from the year 2016 might help to restore its credit within the population. On the other hand, because the Azeri government created an impression that winning over Armenians is normal, we can observe an increasingly militant mood within the Azerbaijani society. They have a taste of victory, and they want more. They believe they can start a war and win it. But the problem is, that if they do start a war, and Armenians strike the pipelines (in Azerbaijan), Azerbaijani public might suddenly realise that the war is devastating and the victory is not feasible because of the Russian supply of arms (to Armenia) or due to some other factor. Although in a similar scenario, Russia can play on both sides. Once Azerbaijanis would see that victory is very costly and challenging, or unreachable, they might turn against their government. That would be the end of Aliyev’s rule. And he doesn’t want the war. He is probably the last person in Azerbaijan, who wishes such war.
TB: But such conflict could also get out of hand in a much more dangerous sense, since Azerbaijani military command recently proclaimed that in case of Armenian attack on Azerbaijani oil and gas infrastructure it would target Armenian nuclear power plant at Metsamor, 36 kilometres west of Yerevan which would turn this conflict into a global catastrophe rather than just regional one.
ES: There is this issue of which side of the conflict would behave more ruthlessly because as you mentioned, Armenians have been claiming that in the case of war they would not only target the pipeline, but they would also target the Mingachevir Dam, which would cause a massive catastrophe in the North Azerbaijan. So, both sides are competing who is more robust and more committed. But of course, making such statements is somewhat dangerous, to put it mildly.
TB: Information about causalities and losses on both sides differ significantly for now. Is it possible to assess the performance of both respective militaries at this point?
ES: We don’t know for sure because we lack information from satellites, the way we had them back in 2016. Armenians said that they have gained control over some height in the area. We do not know for sure. The problem with the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in that area is that it is not properly demarcated. I would say that at least the public opinion after killing the general and the major of the Azerbaijani army is inclined to think that Armenians won. So as far as we know, we have four Armenian soldiers killed and if I’m correct thirteen or fourteen Azerbaijani soldiers killed. Therefore it seems that Armenians have been more successful, but we do not have verified data.
TB: Could lower causalities on the Armenian side imply that they were indeed defending themselves in advantageous terrain? Especially taking into account fact, that the Azerbaijani army at the moment is better equipped?
ES: We cannot say this for sure, because we do not have a statistically significant number of losses. This might be a result of just one successful hit.