War drums again in the “Black Garden” of the Caucasus

The fragile truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh weakens

Keeping the hawks at bay is increasingly difficult in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. “This year, the Azerbaijani national budget is $28 billion [nearly €21 billion], $3 billion [€2.2bn] of which was spent on arms, more than Armenia’s entire state budget.” The man boasting about his country’s superior military spending power over its neighboring enemy is not the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Minister of Defence but, rather, the mild-mannered president of its State Oil Fund, Shahmar Movsumov. Discussions with Movsumov usually concern property investments and government bonds but nowadays his pronouncements are more bellicose: “We obviously have to do something. The people can’t take it anymore.”

Swamped in petrodollars, for years Azerbaijan has been allocating 10% of its budget to defence. The delicate balance of power in the region, a powerful disincentive against a new conflict in the first decade of the ceasefire agreement, now seems about to snap. Azerbaijan continues to increase its wealth, using it to stockpile arms bought from Turkey and Israel. Meanwhile, landlocked Armenia – stuck between Turkey and Azerbaijan, with Iran to the south – sees its young people leave in search of employment, and stays afloat thanks to money sent home by the Armenian diaspora’s thriving communities, especially in the US and France.

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