If the weather and Azerbaijan cooperate, we're repeatedly told, passenger planes will soon take off from the separatist airstrip of Nagorno-Karabakh. Any passengers, though, will probably be uneasily shifting in their seats with every shake or rattle, trying to figure out whether their plane has encountered turbulence or is dodging Azerbaijani missiles.
If it’s any reassurance for those prospective passengers, a top Russian general thinks that Azerbaijan is just kidding about its threats to knock down the planned flights from the breakaway territory. “It is either an unsuccessful articulation of thoughts or an unfortunate joke,” asserted Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia's response to NATO, while on a trip to Yerevan. “I don’t take this information seriously."
Committed to reclaiming Karabakh and the adjoining occupied territories, and returning tens of thousands of IDPs, Baku threatened to gun down any planes from the newly renovated airport outside the Karabakhi capital Stepanakert (known to Azerbaijanis as Khankendi), and said it has the full right to do so. Armenia threatened to respond in kind, and the Caucasus again got filled with the threat of war.
Cue Russia. Armenia is part of the CSTO, which vowed to protect, honor and cherish its members in good times and bad.
But the Azerbaijanis told Bordyuzha that they can match words with intentions, and again accused Moscow of siding with Armenia in the conflict over breakaway Karabakh. “Azerbaijan is not joking,” said Azerbaijani defense ministry spokesperson Eldar Sabiroglu, 1news.az reported.
Yet even if Azerbaijan finds a universally acceptable legal justification for attacks on Karabakh flights and won’t be deterred by Armenian retaliation or international reaction, it is highly unlikely to risk an all-out confrontation with Moscow, some observers believe. Particularly in an election year. Meanwhile, Moscow, in some way, may be attempting to put a lid on the enthusiasm of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a Karabakh native, for the flights. Citing anonymous Russian defense ministry sources, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that a recent delegation to Yerevan had advised against civilian flights from Karabakh, and had emphasized Armenia's pending military cooperation agreement with Moscow. That said, whether or not the Russian reassurance or recommendations will cool hot heads remains a toss-up. Failing all else, passengers on any Karabakh flight might want to take an extra minute to locate the security exits.