Fighting broke out on Tuesday between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latest flare-up in their decades-long armed standoff over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of the South Caucasus. The clashes raised the prospect that Russia would be embroiled in another war near its borders.
Each side blamed the other for the fighting that broke out on their borders on Tuesday. It was the worst escalation in hostilities between the two countries since a 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and a Russian-brokered ceasefire that ended large-scale fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said 49 of his country’s soldiers had died overnight in clashes with the Azerbaijani army. Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan accused Armenia of a number of “large-scale provocations” that forced it into reprisals. The ministry later announced that 50 Azerbaijani soldiers – 42 soldiers and eight border guards – had been killed.
Mr Pashinyan, speaking in the Armenian parliament, denied that his country had provoked Azerbaijan, accusing it of attacking Armenian territory first. He said the intensity of hostilities had abated later Tuesday, but attacks from Azerbaijan continued on one or two fronts.
The escalation between the two former Soviet states has raised fears that Russia could be caught up in a second war alongside the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is a close ally of Armenia, and some military analysts suggested that Russia’s recent setbacks in northeastern Ukraine may have encouraged Azerbaijan to launch another attack. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but claims independence and is closely associated with Armenia.
Mr Pashinyan called on Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, with whom he spoke by phone, to resolve the situation, according to a statement from the Armenian government.
Russia’s foreign ministry said it had brokered a renewed ceasefire that went into effect mid-morning Tuesday called on both sides to exercise restraint and honor the agreements that ended the 2020 war.
“The president is, of course, doing everything he can to help de-escalate tensions at the border,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, referring to Mr Putin. “These efforts are ongoing.”
Pashinyan also spoke to Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken by phone and called for “an adequate response” from the international community to “the aggression launched by Azerbaijan against the sovereign territory of Armenia,” the statement said. Armenian government.
mr. Blinken said in a statement that “there can be no military solution to the conflict.” He added: “We urge an immediate end to all military hostilities.”
Mr Pashinyan also made telephone calls with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and other leaders, the Armenian government said.
Russia and Armenia are part of a Moscow-led military alliance whose charter states that an attack on one member should be seen as an aggression against all. Russia also has a military base in Armenia.
In 2020, Mr Putin played a key role in securing a broad-based post-war ceasefire in which Azerbaijan recaptured some of the territory it had lost in another conflict that began during the collapse of the Soviet Union on the late eighties.
Since then, tensions between the two countries have steadily risen. But this is the first time there have been clashes on such a scale, and at the internationally recognized border between the two countries rather than the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, said Olesya Vartanyan, a senior South Caucasus analyst for the international crisis. Group.
Moscow has been trying to strike a balance between the two countries for years, but this has become an increasingly difficult task as the war in Ukraine has forced the Kremlin to turn its attention and strength elsewhere.
As part of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, Mr Putin sent about 2,000 peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, demonstrating Russia’s role as a powerful arbiter in the Caucasus region, which has been ravaged by conflict for decades. and volatility.
Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine has encouraged parties in the region to act with less restraint, Ms Vartanyan said.
“Russia, the main mediator of the conflict, is unable to make the same efforts to prevent escalation as it did before the war in Ukraine,” she said.
The escalation of the fighting poses a new challenge for Moscow, analysts say.
“This attack says as much about Russia as it does about Armenia today,” said Thomas de Waal, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and author of “Black Garden,” a book on Nagorno-Karabakh.
“It’s a test, when Russia is flat on its back because of a new Ukraine offensive: will they commit to defending Armenia and alienating Azerbaijan?”
The attacks come less than two weeks after Mr Pashinyan met with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan in Brussels to discuss the possibility of a lasting peace treaty between the two countries. Armenia and Azerbaijan have negotiated a peace agreement, with Moscow and Brussels competing for the role of mediator.
“The real reason for these occasional clashes is that there is no real peace treaty,” said Farid Shafiyev, a former diplomat and director of the government-funded Center for Analysis of International Relations in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital. “The outcome of the meeting was not positive,” Mr Shafiyev said, adding that it may have contributed to the escalating tensions.
De Waal said Azerbaijan is in a relatively strong position, militarily and politically, after its successes in the 2020 war, citing the signing of a non-aggression pact with Russia, its success in gaining diplomatic support from Turkey and its role in supplying the European Union with gas if Russian gas comes under pressure from sanctions.
“Azerbaijanis still have unfinished business with the Armenians,” he said. “And right now they feel like they’re in a superior position to use both diplomacy and force to get those things.”
Ivan Nechepurenko reported from Tbilisi, Georgia; Cora Engelbrecht from London.