Early Sunday morning, Azerbaijan time, an explosion tore through a crowded nightclub in the capital of Baku. There is no definitive count of casualties now, but the explosion could not have come at a worse time for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 2020, former Soviet Republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, fought a brutal, 44-day war over a disputed chunk of land with the Tolkien-esque name of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians are a Russian client state. Azerbaijan has ties with Israel and is a member of the NATO farm club, the “Partnership for Peace” program. In the war, Armenia was soundly thumped, and Russia, attempting to show its relevance, acted as the intermediary for the cease-fire and has employed “peacekeepers” in the region.
Russia has had to pull troops from “peacekeeping” duties in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh because they are needed in Ukraine. The transfer of “peacekeepers” allowed Azerbaijan to encroach on the cease-fire line (see The EU, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan All Show How Moscow’s Power Is Slipping Away Because the Russian Army Is Getting Thrashed by Ukraine),
At the same time, Azerbaijan has been developing close ties with Israel. Iran, which shares a border with Azerbaijan populated by Azerbaijanis, is not amused and has repeatedly threatened Baku over its relationship with Israel.
The investigation into the bombing is still underway, but there are three branches to the decision tree.
There are a lot of hurt feelings over the outcome of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Both sides have accused the other of genocide. The explosion being an Armenian retaliation for Azerbaijani’s aggressiveness on the cease-fire line is possible. If that is the case, a new war would be very likely, as Russia is preoccupied and has shown itself to be a paper tiger.
The Iranians are prone to acts of terrorism when they are miffed about something. They have made repeated threats over the presence of Israelis so close to the pure Islamist air of Iran and been ignored. Any country that can bomb a synagogue in Argentina for sh**s and grins can bomb a nightclub where alcohol is consumed, and men and women, possibly Israelis, mingle. I don’t know enough about Iran-Azerbaijan relations to guess what that would mean, much less provide informed speculation.
The third possibility is that it was an accident. The General Director of AzeriGas has released a statement saying it was a “propane gas cylinder” explosion. The statement is constructed to lead one to conclude that this was an accidental explosion, but at no point does it say so. A “propane gas cylinder” could be an explosion, or it could be part of something larger, or it could simply be false.
What is important here is how the Azerbaijan government will decide to treat the explosion. If they want to take another whack at Armenia, an investigation can be created that will give them cause to do so. If they want this to be an accident, they’ve already set the stage for that decision, too.