So it emerges that I was justified in posting this graph so often. At the end of the day, the blunt and banal facts of the matter were as follows:
- In 1992-94, Azerbaijan was a disorganized, demoralized, and dysfunctional state with a <50% advantage in comprehensive military power (CMP) over Armenia.
- In 2020, Azerbaijan was a well-organized dictatorship whose own citizens were demanding to “end the lockdowns, start the war” with a 3x advantage in CMP over Armenia.
Considering their comparable levels of human capital – average IQ around 90, though perhaps marginally higher for Armenians – our odds should have favored Azerbaijan (even if the terrain threatened to make their campaign a slow and costly one).
This is also why I expressed skepticism about Armenia’s chances from the get go, to the consternation of some of Armenia’s more dedicated champions on my blog. Which is not to say that the Armenians didn’t have any chance – had they prepared better; had they been better at countering Azeri drones (knocking out objects with the flight profiles of WW1 biplanes isn’t an insurmountable task), or at least mitigating their effectiveness (e.g. by avoiding dense troop concentrations and concealing armor with thermal blankets); had they resisted until the onset of winter, when the snows would have made the mountain passes much less traversable – they may have been able to eke out a stalemate and force the Azeris to the negotiating tables under much more favorable conditions. But that was not to be, due to a combination of both Armenian fecklessness and surprisingly high Azeri military competence.
I have already written at length about how the color revolution that brought Nikol Pashinyan to power was accompanied by an Armenian-initiated cooling of relations (ironically mirroring Azerbaijan’s Abulfaz Elchibey during their first war), such as arresting pro-Russian politicians, repeatedly slighting Russia, and refusing to integrate its air defense systems with Russia’s – something that would have come very much in handy during this war! (As it was, its air defense assets remained minimally interlinked, with the result that Azerbaijan’s not all that sophisticated Harops and Bayraktars were able to pluck them out at leisure).
However, what was news to me is the sheer extent to which Pashinyan’s Westernizing purges crippled Armenian military capability, not just through the direct loss of human capital but also thank to the severing of intelligence ties with Russia. These are all points made by Evgeny Krutikov, writing for the Russian online newspaper Vzglyad, and summarized in English by John Helmer:
“Over the past year, the Armenian military lost contact with Moscow, and all contacts in the intelligence sphere between the two countries were curtailed – and this was done at the initiative of the political leadership of Armenia. During the period of Nikol Pashinyan’s premiership, three intelligence chiefs were replaced, and one of them had no competence and was a purely political appointee from the West. All this was accompanied by internal anti-Russian rhetoric, multiplied by national arrogance… Moreover, over the last six months, in the General Staff of Armenia has been mass dismissal of officers who were trained in Moscow. The ostensible reason for this was the wedding of the Chief of the General Staff’s daughter, who allegedly ‘did not follow the rules of conduct in the coronavirus pandemic.’”
Pashinyan’s rationale for the dismissal of General Artak Davtyan was announced on June 8. At the same time he also sacked the chiefs of the police and national security administration. That, according to the Russian assessment, left Pashinyan in charge of a command-and-control system which was hollow. The Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev saw the opportunity to strike. “It seems that the Armenian General Staff either did not have a mobilisation plan at all, or it suffers from a number of strange features. For the defence of the ‘mountain fortress’, forty to sixty thousand people are really enough, but this is clearly not enough for the organisation of mobile defence. Armenians behave passively, simply fending off threats as they emerge.”
Crimping your military capacity through political purges and antagonizing your chief (and only) geopolitical patron while adamantly refusing to compromise with a much more powerful neighbor rapidly gearing up for war were certainly some very Big Brain 4D chess moves.
Conversely, even as the Armenian elites were going about “building democracy” and “fighting corruption” in the aftermath of their color revolution, and their diasporoids were putting pronouns and #BLM in their Twitter bios, the the Azeri high command had seriously prepared for a revanchist war to retake Karabakh, not just splashing out on modern equipment but probing for weaknesses in prior clashes, studying the latest doctrines, and developing innovative new tactics.
For instance, as was widely observed on combat footage forums, as well as the comments here (esp. Dmitry), that the Azeris utilized their otherwise useless stocks of Soviet An-2 biplanes as decoys to get Armenian air defense to reveal their positions by shooting them down – only for them to be immediately whacked by loitering munitions, even as Armenian patriots posted triumphant Tweets about how they had just shot down yet another “Azeri drone.”
Here’s one good description of how that worked:
Once the Azeris had broken through the Armenian defensive line in the south, they did not subsequently throw masses of armor against the next obvious objective: The very heavily defended Lachin corridor connecting Armenia to mountainous Artsakh. They might have succeeded, but only at a high cost, as Armenian anti-tank weapons would have chewed up their armor from both sides.
Instead, their pivoted up north, into the
Ardennes Artsakh mountains.
The Armenians were presumably not expecting that, and may not have even taken it very seriously, since the “fortress town” of Shusha is located at a high altitude, and covered by a cliff wall on its southern and south-eastern flank.
At this point, the Azeris revealed the last ace up their sleeves: The mountaineering special units they had apparently been training up just for such an operation*.
The above video is pro-Azeri propaganda, up to the point of calling Armenians “subhumans” at one point (I guess YouTube hasn’t yet gotten round to policing Azeri hate speech).
Nonetheless, their version of events is not implausible. The reason that Shusha fell so quickly is that Azeri spetsnats infiltrated it through by scaling the cliffs, instead of trying to pass through the heavily defended roadways. They then seized two critical choke points and help them long enough to enable Azeri regular forces to swipe in and clear up.
At that point, the Armenian military situation became untenable. The winter snows were still weeks away, Stepanakert was cut off from the Armenian mainland, and the Azeris had the high ground, with the capacity to accurately target artillery fire on any part of the Artsakh capital. The complete collapse of the rest of Karabakh was days away. At that point, Pashinyan made one of the rare good decisions of his Presidency – to capitulate and allow Russia to salvage what was still salvageable, autistic screeching from diasporoid nationalists regardless.
Regardless of one’s partisan sympathies in this conflict, it is impossible not to look at the performance of Ilham Aliyev as dictator, his generals, and the Azeri military with a due level of respect, especially when set against that of Pashinyan and his clowns.
Summarizing the “lessons” of this conflict:
(1) God is on the side of the big battalions. To get those big battalions, you need a big GDP, high human capital/average IQ, and to effectively convert it into military power.
All else equal, the side with more GDP, more CMP, more manpower, more human capital, more materiel will likely win.
Simple, obvious rule that has usually worked, works now, and will continue to work long into the future. But normies seem to find this baffling, for some reason.
(2) If you don’t have the bigger battalions, then the least you could do is to be smarter at diplomacy. But the Azeris completely owned the Armenians in this department too:
Finally, Azerbaijan is getting the better reception internally. To be sure, world public opinion is firmly on Armenia’s side – but how many divisions does world public opinion have? Nations as diverse and geopolitically opposed as the US, France, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have expressed varying degrees of implicit support for Armenia. But they are not getting involved, while Israel has been sending Azerbaijan more drones, and Turkey has not just explicitly endorsed Azerbaijan’s maximalist war aims but does everything for it short of direct military interference. The Armenian Lobby might be powerful, but the Israel Lobby it is not.
And that’s despite the Armenians having what is probably the world’s second most influential ethnic lobby!
(3) As observed earlier, modern high-intensity wars between peers – as opposed to more anodyne peacekeeping or anti-insurgency campaigns – still eat up manpower and materiel at essentially World War II level rates. Remarkably little has changed in that respect!
Midway through the conflict, Putin said that 5,000 Armenians and Azeris had died, with more than 2,000 on each side. In per capita terms over time, that’s approximately equivalent to German losses during WW2 for Armenians and British losses during WW1 for Azeris, respectively. Assuming that these rates remained more or less constant, I would estimate that the final death toll over a month and a half is 10,000 soldiers (with a higher share wounded due to medical advances). I also expect that it is about evenly split between Armenians and Azeris**.
(4) Doubtless the Azeri advance would have been much slower and costlier in the absence of their drone fleet. Is it fair to say that cheap Israeli and Turkish drones defeat expensive Russian anti-air systems?
Call it Russian cope if you will, but it’s not that obvious:
- The Armenians were primarily relying on rather antiquated systems such as Osas, while using S-400’s against drones is like swatting a fly with a bullet. The most obvious counter against them, Pantsirs, were not in service in Armenia.
- Armenia’s 4 Su-30SM’s could have made short work of many drones had they been used in anger. For whatever reason, they were not used. (Perhaps due to escalation risks).
- There are multiplier effects to “layering” different types of air defense units and “integrating” them all with each other and to multiple sensors. It appears that the Armenians didn’t do this seriously.
Nonetheless, at the end of the day, you fight with the equipment and capabilities you have, so in many situations cheap drones will be an excellent investment that can make life hell as for as the armor and logistics of “20th century” militaries are concerned.
That said, militaries that adjust too much towards cheap, simple drones based on lessons from this conflict may likewise find themselves regretting their choices if/when they come up against a first-tier military.
(5) Nationalistic states under competent central authorities committed to their goals beat out revolutionary states that get drunk on their own ideological Kool-Aid. In fact, unlike commies or Islamists, “democratists” aren’t even going to set up blocking detachments when things go south.
Their appeals to “world public opinion” might get more sympathy on /r/worldnews and Blue Check Twitter – but as I asked at the beginning, how many divisions does world public opinion have?
Democratist delusions brutally punished by reality. 😐
— «««ANATꙮLY KARLIN»»» (@akarlin88) November 10, 2020
Although my own partisan sympathies were exclusively pro-Armenian, I will admit to a certain intellectual satisfaction that my broad model of how reality works was vindicated.
I see lots of non-Armenians retweeting the above tweet. Where the fuck were you the last six weeks. Fuck you.
— Karena Avedissian (@KarenaAv) November 10, 2020
* So I guess I was wrong on this:
But as also noted before, the Armenians are not just on the defense, but fighting in mountainous positions that limits the possibilities of armor and forces the Azeris into infantry-heavy attacks. The Azeris are also less competent soldiers than the Armenians and they don’t have the equivalent of elite German alpine divisions (commenter Annatar notes the history of the German 5th Mountain division, which scaled a 2,100 m snowy pass and broke the Greek defence lines in 3 day).
** For comparison, the Armenians lost about as many soldiers during this war as they did during two years in 1992-94, when they lost 6,000. The Azeris did much better relatively speaking, back then they lost 25,000-30,000. This time, they matched Armenian losses but spread out over a 3.5x larger population base.