Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan via AP
MOSCOW — Azerbaijan’s military said it had launched “localized counterterrorism measures” after landmines killed four soldiers and two civilians early Tuesday in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The ethnically Armenian-majority territory, located in Azerbaijan, has been the source of conflicts and wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the end of the Soviet period.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in Baku, the capital, blamed the deaths on “Armenian separatists” – an accusation that Armenia rejected as a provocation.
A contingent of up to 2,000 Russian peacekeepers – installed after Moscow negotiated an end to large-scale hostilities in 2020 – has apparently failed to act against Azerbaijan’s current military offensive.
Azerbaijan has also benefited from military support from its traditional ally Turkey, which is increasingly filling the great power void in the South Caucasus as Russia focuses its resources on the war in Ukraine.
Baku says the goal of the current mission, which began Tuesday, is to “disarm and eliminate” Armenian forces operating illegally inside the enclave and to protect Azeris living in the region. The Armenian Defense Ministry denies that its troops are operating in the region.
Explosions and sirens were reported in Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert on Tuesday, with cell reception apparently down.
Azerbaijan’s military said it was using “precision weapons” to carry out airstrikes. Former representatives of the self-proclaimed government in Stepanakert claimed that “massive bombings” had begun.
As Russia is absorbed in its war in Ukraine, Armenia is reassessing its dependence on Moscow for security.
In Yerevan, the Armenian capital, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened his security council to discuss the escalating conflict.
Tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh have ebbed and flowed in recent months, as Western powers have increasingly usurped traditional Russian efforts to find a solution to the conflict.
Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images
On the one hand, there have been apparent signs of progress: Western-backed peace talks earlier this year led Yerevan’s leaders to declare that Armenia was ready to formally recognize the High -Karabakh as belonging to Azerbaijan – provided that security guarantees are offered to ethnic Armenians living in the country. there.
On the other hand, Baku has exploited the partial blockade of humanitarian goods, growing military superiority, and Russia’s preoccupation with the war in Ukraine to dictate the terms of negotiations.
Russia’s repeated failure to come to Armenia’s aid despite a collective security agreement is also fueling a westward drift in Yerevan.
A continent of 85 U.S. troops is currently conducting joint exercises with Armenian forces near Yerevan as part of a 10-day NATO peacekeeping training mission.
The Armenian government has also expressed support for joining the International Criminal Court, a body that currently has an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his actions in Ukraine.
Separately, Pashinyan recently called Armenia’s traditional dependence on Russia for security a “strategic mistake.”
“Armenia’s security architecture was 99.999% linked to Russia, including the purchase of weapons and ammunition,” he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper. The Republic earlier this month.
“But today we see that Russia itself needs weapons and ammunition. And in this situation it is understandable that even if it wants to, the Russian Federation cannot meet security needs of Armenia.”
In response to the latest outbreak of fighting, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on both sides to return to a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the conflict.