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India Wades into Armenia Azerbaijan Dispute

Map of South Caucasus Courtesy Research Gate

In the thrust for defence exports, India seems to have knowingly waded into a dispute in the South Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia leading to serious objections by Baku.

It is nobody’s case that India has to heed observations of nations on to whom to sell or not to sell arms. Of late India has succeeded in an agreement to export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to Philippines a country that has a dispute in the South China Sea with Bejing

However, the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia is different as the two countries are in a state of war which the last major outbreak in 2020 lasting for 44 days.

After a cease fire brokered by Russia, there has been relative calm but there have been sporadic incidents of firing.

Most recently Azerbaijan has blamed Armenia for provocations by opening fire on the Border Guard personnel on July 15 and, “attempting smuggling, as well as dispatching the cargo vehicles to the territory of Azerbaijan on July 26 without prior agreement”.

Azerbaijan also alleges that “aim of Armenia is to bring third parties to the region, expand the geography of tensions, as well as to lead the peace process to a failure point,” even though Baku has been in active partnership with Turkey, Pakistan and even Israel in its project for attaining military superiority over the smaller rival.

India’s plans to export arms to Armenia were well known to Azerbaijan and in January this year, as per a report in the Tribune, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has objected to India’s supply of weapons to Armenia as an “unfriendly move”, adding: “If we are facing a serious threat, we will deal with that threat immediately, regardless of where that threat arises, within our territory or outside our borders. It is our legitimate right to do so.”

Ilham reportedly added, “We see and know which countries are preparing to give weapons to Armenia. Unfortunately, India is now among them. We consider this an unfriendly move. Because these weapons have only one target, Azerbaijan.”

Recent Diplomatic Escalation

Recent diplomatic escalation occurred after an Azeri news website reported the movement of a large vehicle convoy through the Nurduz border checkpoint (Iran) to Armenia and provided live footage of the same claiming that the cargo was Indian exported Pinaka Multiple Rocket Launch System to Armenia. The cargo was reportedly transported through Iran’s Bandar Abbas port.

Reacting sharply, reports that On July 26, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan - Head of the Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmet Hajiyev is reported to have met with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to our country Sridharan Madhusudhanan.

According to Caliber.Az, at the meeting, Hikmet Hajiyev highlighted Azerbaijani concern about the deepening of military cooperation between Armenia and India, “in particular, the photos and videos circulated in the media in recent days about the transportation of Indian-made weapons systems through Iran to Armenia are of concern”.

Interestingly Hajiyev highlighted that, “This is also inconsistent with India's foreign policy based on the norms and principles of international law, as well as with the "Bandung principles" of the Non-Aligned Movement, in which this country is represented”.

Hikmet Hajiyev stressed that Azerbaijan is always open for dialogue with India.

The Complex Geopolitics of South Caucasus

Post break up of the Soviet Union, the geopolitics of South Caucasus has been marred by regional competition with the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan reverberating from time to time.

With Russia engaged in war with Ukraine the vacuum has expanded and regional countries as Turkey, Iran and even Israel have waded in these disputed territories for their own national interests.

Turkey’s ambitions to shape a sphere of influence under President Recep Erdogan is likely to gain traction after his success at the recent hustings.

Israel finds Azerbaijan an outpost for a possible military action against Iran and for that and other reasons recent relations between Tehran and Baku have been strained with an alleged armed attack at the embassy of Azerbaijan in Iran leading to its closure.

India’s Interests in South Caucasus

India’s direct interests in South Caucasus are not clear even though undermining Pakistan’s influence in Azerbaijan could be a long shot. Pakistan was the first country to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan and supported Baku in 44-day war with Armenia and has very proximate relations with that country along with Turkey. There is a common posture that is distinctly favouring Pakistan adopted by Azerbaijan and Turkey on Jammu and Kashmir, which has been irksome to India.

However possibly there are other and more significant spheres where this can be achieved rather than in remote South Caucasus and that too supplying long range artillery to a warring side.

A purely defence commercial interest could be a motive as Armenia is scouting for alternate weapons suppliers after Russia has fallen short.

If that be so the diplomatic fallout would have been weighed in by New Delhi in taking the decision to supply long range artillery manufactured by a government owned enterprise to Armenia a country at war with Azerbaijan. A green signal from Russia may have been one of the factors.

Perhaps the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to make a strong statement of being an active stakeholder in international disputes and crisis management shedding the pacifist approach adopted by its predecessors.

Whether Armenia was the right choice for an indicator of change in the overall muscular foreign policy remains to be seen?


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