According to Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, on September 1, the Azerbaijani military forces launched another provocation, which could erupt between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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The protracted dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh is on the verge of developing into another hot war, which is causing the situation in the South Caucasus to become unstable once more.
The two sides swap accusations and exchange fire almost daily. Last weekend, Yerevan claimed that its own forces had been attacked while Baku claimed that Armenia had fired on its army. The joint military drills between Armenia and the United States are taking place as the events take place, and they will last through September 20. This has confused Russia.
The EU has also intervened in the situation and is actively holding talks with both Yerevan and Baku. For its part, Moscow believes that Brussels is responsible for escalating the conflict in the region.
The signing of a peace deal that would formally define the borders of the two nations has been a topic of frequent discussion between Baku and Yerevan over the past few years. Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, recently stated that “there is almost no significant impediment to a peace pact… I have no doubt that a peace agreement can be concluded soon.
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But the confrontation between the two nations erupted once more earlier this month. According to Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, on September 1 the Azerbaijani military forces “launched another provocation” in the Sotk-Khoznavar region of Syunik Province, resulting in the deaths of three Armenian troops.
However, Baku said that fire from the Armenian side had wounded one of its soldiers. Later, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said that two more troops had been hurt and that the Armenian Armed Forces had attacked the Azerbaijani army near the border using a drone.
Yerevan allegedly used drones, artillery, and mortars to strike the Azerbaijani forces, according to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense.
Each side blamed the other of making things worse. The Armenian government, according to Baku, is spreading misleading information and attempting to “form a false opinion in the international community to lay the groundwork for another provocation.”
A few days later, a number of videos depicting massive columns of azerbaijani military hardware marching in the direction of the Armenian border started to circulate online, igniting lively conversations. Pashinyan underlined that while continuing to assert its claim to Armenia’s legitimate land, Azerbaijan was building up military troops along the border and in the Karabakh area. He also referred to the rise in what he called hateful anti-Armenian sentiments in the Azerbaijani press and on propaganda platforms.
‘Explosive’ is how Pashinyan described the border scenario. He urged the international community to act quickly to stop the situation from worsening.
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry described statements about the concentration of Azerbaijani forces on the border as “political manipulation.” Azerbaijani diplomats noted that “the continuation of military-political provocations by Armenia, ongoing claims voiced by Armenia including its prime minister against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan, and the non-withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the territories of Azerbaijan, contrary to its obligations, are real threats to security in the region.”
“In order to establish peace and security in the region, Armenia must abandon its territorial claims against Azerbaijan, put an end to military and political provocations, and stop the obstacles to the successful outcome of the negotiation process on the peace treaty,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry commented.
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The essence of the conflict
For many years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds over Karabakh, a region that technically belongs to Azerbaijan but is mostly populated by Armenians.
Ethnic conflicts emerged in the area, much like in other isolated areas of the vast nation, as the power of the central authorities weakened in the final years of the USSR. These disputes quickly escalated into violent fights. The autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh announced its separation from the Azerbaijani SSR in 1988. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was established in the final months of the Soviet Union, although not even Armenia, a UN member, recognized it. Due to the geographical dispute, the afterwards independent nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in an armed struggle that has not yet been resolved.
Baku lost control of Karabakh and seven neighboring regions during the armed war that lasted from 1992 to 1994. As a result, Armenia was able to protect the NKR’s so-called “independence” and establish a “security belt” around Karabakh. Various estimates place the death toll from the military war at between 5,000 and 6,000 on the Armenian side and between 4,000 and 11,000 on the Azerbaijani side. The OSCE Minsk Group, which consists of Russia, the US, and France, as well as talks between the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, have been trying to find a solution to the problem for the past 30 years, but to no avail.
The Second Karabakh War, which started in September 2020, altered the scenario. The Azerbaijanis were successful in seizing control of a sizeable portion of their lands south of Karabakh, including the crucially vital city of Shusha, during the 44 days of intense fighting. Further attempts to carry on the fight were essentially pointless after this city was under control.
On November 9, 2020, the leaders of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, and Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan signed a joint declaration declaring an end to the hostilities in the Karabakh region. The paper states that Russian peacekeepers were stationed along the line of contact and in the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia with the unrecognized NKR, and that Baku has regained authority over most of the areas it lost in the 1990s.
However, no formal peace treaty has yet been signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan put forth five requirements for a peace deal with Armenia in March of last year: mutual recognition of state borders, confirmation of the absence of territorial claims, renunciation of the use of force or threats of use of force, demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, and opening of transport communications. This included, among other things, the establishment of the Zangezur corridor, a route that would connect Baku and the country’s western provinces with the exclave of Nakhchivan by passing through Armenia’s Syunik province. After there, the road would go on to Türkiye, eventually bringing Armenia out of the transportation limbo it has been in since the First Karabakh War.
A paragraph of the trilateral cease-fire agreement from November 9, 2020 states that Russian border guards will be in charge of the Zangezur corridor. Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia concurred that the corridor would be extraterritorial by signing the agreement.
Despite this, Armenia started to boycott the project because they saw it as a danger to their security. Authorities in Armenia indicated that their worries stemmed from Azerbaijan’s sporadic claims that Syunik province is historically Azerbaijani territory. According to Pashinyan’s July statement, “Armenia has never, neither verbally nor in writing, assumed any corridor obligation and will not accept any such interpretation.”
The unrecognized NKR is connected to Armenia through the Lachin corridor, which is the center of Azerbaijan’s attention since the Zangezur Corridor project was effectively put on hold.
The authorities of the unrecognized NKR have accused Baku of cutting off natural gas supplies, the only source of heat for thousands of civilians, since the winter of 2022-2023. Armenia claimed that Karabakh had fallen under a “blockade.” Baku has issued a series of “warnings” about the inadmissibility of delaying peace talks. Then, Armenia claimed that Azerbaijan was obstructing multiple vehicles carrying humanitarian goods.
Local media reports that vehicles with Armenian license plates are driving in both ways while Azerbaijan denies involvement for the “blockade.” Additionally, Azerbaijani officials have offered to provide food and medication via a different channel.
The divide between Moscow and Yerevan, which sought Western assistance even before the escalation began, has widened significantly in the meanwhile. Foreign ministers from the EU gave their approval in January for the establishment of a civilian EU mission in Armenia to “promote de-escalation in the Caucasus.” The declared objective is to improve security and trust in Armenia’s border regions and to foster an atmosphere that would allow for the restoration of ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The creation of the EU mission in Armenia “launches a new phase in the EU’s engagement in the South Caucasus,” according to EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell.
Ararat Mirzoyan, the foreign minister of Armenia, and Jeyhun Bayramov, the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, met for the first time in a protracted period of time on May 1.
On the subject of the “blockade,” no specific measures were suggested. However, the US side insisted on opening the corridor in an effort to win Yerevan’s long-term support.
Moscow observed the gesture and was undoubtedly annoyed by it, interpreting it as a sign that the West wanted to end the conflict on its terms.
“There are no other legal grounds yet that would contribute to the settlement [of the situation] so there is absolutely no alternative to these tripartite documents. We know as well that there are various attempts that undermine the foundations of the settlement, which may not yield results in the future,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, in May.
The discrepancies got worse towards the start of September. They began when the Armenian Defense Ministry announced that the joint US-Armenian military exercise “Eagle Partner 2023” will take place at the Zar Training Center in the middle of September.
Prior to it, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, gave a sensational interview to the publication La Repubblica. The lawmaker said in an interview with a French journalist that Russia is hesitant to end the issue and release the Karabakh “blockade.” Pashinyan said that in terms of protecting civilian security and thwarting Baku’s ambitions to enlarge the controlled region, the peacekeepers are unable to carry out their mandate.
The Russian government took notice of these comments. The “blockade” in Karabakh is “a consequence of his own actions,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in reaction to the prime minister’s remarks. She also referred to the Armenian president as a “bad dancer” who seeks to pin the country’s present predicament on its former friend.
“What Pashinyan is doing is clearly provoking the current situation. I do not know why he is doing this. Perhaps he was taught so by the bad boys from the European Union,” Alexey Martynov, Director of the International Institute of the Newly Established States, told RT.