New war between Armenia & Azerbaijan is not a new conflict

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A new war breaking out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, not a new conflict. They've been fighting over contested territory that used to be a part of the Azeri Soviet Socialist Republic. Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous region. It was taken by the Armenians. It's a mostly Armenian enclave in terms of population. It's been contested since that military fight. There's been ongoing negotiations. The Azeris a number of months ago tried some shelling. They got pasted. This time around, it's war and for a few reasons.


First because the Turkish government has been increasingly publicly supportive of Azerbaijan taking that territory, and indeed President Erdogan has said in the last hours that it is the time for the Azeris to militarily take back this occupied territory. Also, the fact that the Americans are increasingly indifferent about playing policemen in this part of the world, in most part of the world, and the Europeans are pretty divided, especially when it comes to Turkey, because there are millions of refugees in Turkey. The Europeans have been providing some cash, not as much as the church will like. There's a lot of business between Turkey and many European countries and that's limited. They're willing to put sanctions against the Turks, even though they've talked tough.

The Russians have a defense agreement with Armenia, but Armenia now has a pretty fully Democratic government. I would say they are somewhat estranged from the Russians. The Russians also sell military equipment, not just to Armenia, but Azerbaijan. They've been reasonably okay with frozen conflict for quite some time. So, it doesn't mean that if Turkey is supporting Azerbaijan, but they don't have direct troops on the ground, it's not clear that the Russians are going to immediately respond. And so far, they've called for a ceasefire, but they haven't said that they're planning on activating their defense pact and providing direct military support for the Armenians.

So basically, in a G-zero world where the Americans play less of a role and you don't have global leadership, you get a lot of power vacuums and this is such a place. I mean, if you look back to the Clinton era, Bush era, when there were problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the United States was very involved, very involved with the Russians, very involved with both of the protagonists on the ground. They wanted to help ensure stability. They were willing to use a fair amount of political capital to help bring that about.

This administration, not so much. It'll be very interesting. Secretary of State Pompeo is actually in the region. He's in Greece. He's going to the Vatican. This week would be easy for him to make a stop to Baku, and Yerevan, and potentially even Moscow to try to help bring about a ceasefire. But keep in mind, Turkeys and NATO alley, a little elbow grease against them would probably help matters. Not clear that Pompeo's willing to do that.

So given all of that, the likelihood that this escalates into a full blown war and both we've got martial law being declared by both countries, we've got a full mobilization declared by Armenia, it's an open question. It's certainly plausible. The one story that I've seen and I haven't been able to get confirmed is that 4,000 mercenaries sent by Turkey into Azerbaijan helping with the fighting, that showed up in the Jerusalem Post. It's not a bad publication, but it's not something I would trust by itself without any confirmation. They get a lot of rumors wrong. So, let's wait on that.

If it happens, it makes it more likely the Russians would come in. Also, shows that Erdogan, who's under a lot of pressure domestically and was backed down from his efforts to grab territory or show that they have rights in the Eastern Mediterranean that are also contested with the Greeks. For example, certainly Erdogan has been more willing under a lot of economic pressure with the Turkish Lira and free fall with a lot of capital flight to be more of a nationals to show that he can get things done for Turkey and its allies. The Azeris viewed as a little brother. So, that's a little bit on Armenia Azerbaijan.

Also, while we're talking about the former Soviet space, my old stomping grounds, Belarus, we are some eight weeks now into these mass demonstrations, hundreds of thousands protesting in Minsk and across the country, every weekend. There was the inauguration of Lukashenko that was done, pretty much under darkness. They announced it only after the fact and showed a video, not exactly someone that feels comfortable in power right now. The Russians have said they will provide support if necessary, military support, but they haven't done so so far. And there've been these large demonstrations in the international community saying that Lukashenko is an illegitimate president, which I certainly believe given the unfree and unfair elections.

On balance, I suspect Lukashenko is going to be able to stay in. He has the support from the Russians. He doesn't have support from the international community. It doesn't have much opposition from the international community. It feels more like Venezuela than it feels like a potential colored revolution. Despite all of these protests, the Belarusian military, the special forces continue to be completely loyal. You have to tip your hat to the incredible courage of these Belarusian people who could easily be rounded up and arrested. Hundreds and hundreds have been detained.

There's very little independent journalism on the ground anymore. The accreditation has been taken away from all the internationals. I'd love to see the back of Lukashenko and Belarus would still be oriented towards Russia. So, it's not a Ukraine type situation where the Russians would need to go in. There would be backlash, but on balance, you suspect that over time this is going to peter out. We'll watch this as it goes in.

Of course, everybody is talking about the Trump story, the latest being these taxes. Didn't pay any taxes, federal taxes for 10 years. Paid lots of other taxes, paid state, paid local taxes, paid taxes internationally, just not federal taxes. Obviously, going to be incredibly ugly and partisan given that he promised he would release all of his tax returns and then of course didn't. So, it makes you wonder what the hell is in there. Lots in there. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, in part because everyone else is spending a lot of time on this. And my view generally is in the next six weeks, frankly, 12 weeks, if you want to cover Trump and the election, pretty much the mainstream media has you more than satiated, but if you want to find out what's happening in other parts of the world, increasingly you've really got to dig because it's just getting crowded out by all of this noise of this incredibly partisan, really ugly election. So, I'm not going to ignore it. I'll obviously be watching the debates tomorrow and I'm obviously voting. Everyone should, watching the citizen American, but I will probably be spending a little bit less time on Trump than everybody else out there. And let's face it, it'd be hard to spend more time.

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