President Vladimir Putin’s latest efforts to conquer Ukraine are now nearly four months old. Russia’s initial assault failed but, as Bill Roggio warned early on, encouraging Ukraine is not a strategy, especially since Russia grind Ukraine is down and surviving Western resolve beset by President Joe Bidens’ worries about escalation and European profiteering. Recent comments by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger give Putin hope that his gamble will succeed.
The West can compartmentalize conflicts, but what happens in Ukraine does not stay in Ukraine. As Putin defies the rules of the post-World War II liberal order and is poised to succeed, other dictators look set to replicate his strategy for their own land grabs.
Consider Azerbaijan, for example. Speaking at the opening of the IX World Forum in Baku on June 16, Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev Again threatened to launch a war of aggression against Armenia proper. In November 1920, six months after the sovietization of Azerbaijan, the Soviet authorities captured the historical part of our country, Zangazurand annexed it to Armenia, it said, threatening to invade and annex southern Armenia the same way Putin did first in Crimea and now in Donbass. Aliyev’s demand: Armenia renounces its claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian territory attributed by Joseph Stalin to Azerbaijan from which it then voted to pass under the Soviet constitution.
Aliyev’s words are not empty. Earlier this month, I visited the border area between Armenia and the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan. Continuing cuts across the border forced the Armenians to build a large berm to protect civilian cars and trucks. In Yeraskh, an Armenian city in undisputed territory, Azerbaijani officials objected to raising an Armenian flag simply because it was visible on their side of the border from half a mile away.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, whose final status Aliyev had pledged to settle diplomatically before launching a surprise attack on the occasion of the centenary of the Ottoman invasion of Armenia, Aliyev began a harassment campaign through the line of control. Snipers fire on civilian villages and Azeri forces illuminate civilian homes with searchlights at night. And, while Azerbaijan, its lobbyists in Washington and its supporters in the think tank community continue to portray it as a secular state, Azerbaijan has begun broadcast calls to prayer from military trucks to Christian villages. The incitement that Azerbaijan is now directing against the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh is reminiscent of the incitement that immediately preceded the 1994 anti-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, and Azeri rhetoric towards Armenia proper has parallels in the Saddam Hussein’s rejection of Kuwait’s right to exist prior to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of its southern neighbour.
In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also very careful. Beyond Russia, there is perhaps no other country today more willing to engage in offensive wars of conquest against neighbors. Turkey effectively annexed a third of Cyprus, not only ethnically cleansing that Greek population, but also cultural genocide against Turkish Cypriots who traditionally reject Erdo’s doctrinaire Islamism. Turkey has also occupied parts of Iraq for more than a quarter of a century and shows no willingness to leave. Greece remains on high alert after Erdogan recently claimed Aegean islands recognized for centuries as Greek. Turkish colonization Kurdish-populated areas in northern Syria continues and may soon become much worse. As National Security Council official Brett McGurk noticedIf you allow the Turks to enter Syria, they will never leave because they consider northern Syria their rightful homeland.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan regularly chairs meetings to discuss the latest news in Ukraine and calibrate policy. It is necessary but it would be a huge mistake to believe that the problem today concerns only Russia and Ukraine. Weakness and lack of resolve in the West threaten to open Pandora’s box. Today, Russian forces are ravaging Ukraine. In the absence of any strategy to defend and deter Armenia and Syrian Kurdistan, the war in Ukraine will only be the first chapter of a cascade of conquests. It is time to acknowledge the mistake of the past year and realize that proactive deployments, military transfers and sanctions are both cheaper and more effective than a reactive stampede to roll back an invasion.
Biography of experts – Now contributing editor in 1945, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, co-author and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies and Shia politics, including Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East? (AEI Press, 2019); Kurdistan Rising (AEI Press, 2016); Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes (Encounter Books, 2014); and Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave, 2005).
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