Azerbaijan and Armenia entered into a fresh round of violence soon after midnight on Tuesday, 13 September, each accusing the other of undue provocation and claiming to have responded ‘proportionately’.
Based on the information currently available, Azerbaijan is said to have fired mortar shells at Armenian troops stationed along the border. Azerbaijan defends this move by claiming that Armenian forces were amassing ammunition and setting up landmines along the border, and had even fired at Azerbaijani posts, bringing the Azerbaijani border districts under threat. These districts include Lachin which had until recently been under the control of Russian peacekeeping troops under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, and had been handed over to the Azerbaijani forces last month.
Losses on Both Sides
The attacks took place near three important cities on the Armenian side, Jermuk, Goris and Sotk, according to a statement issued by the Armenian Defense Ministry, resulting in a loss of 49 Armenian soldiers. Armenia’s defense ministry claims that attacks were also made against civilian infrastructure and struck near several villages and towns near the border with Azerbaijan. The losses on the Azerbaijani side have not been reported or confirmed although the Defense Ministry has acknowledged damage to its military installations.
Western Interests and Positions on the Clashes
This latest flare-up between two important countries of the South Caucuses has regional as well as international implications. At a time when the neighborhood is suffering from the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war and tense negotiations between the US and Iran, another conflict in the region could spell disaster for peace. It is not surprising then that major world powers have been spurred to action to quell the rising tension between the two nations.
Responding to the Armenian outreach, US Secretary of State has called for both sides to end hostilities immediately, while sending a warning out to Russia to avoid any misadventures that could exacerbate the situation.
French President Macron has also requested both sides to abide by the 2020 ceasefire agreement and has stated that it will submit the matter to the UN Security Council.
The EU has recently been making diplomatic overtures towards both countries in order to replace Russia as the primary mediator in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflicts, and even offered a new peace treaty to both countries. Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief has called upon both countries to cease hostilities immediately and go back to negotiations. Additionally, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has stated the EU’s readiness to take steps for preventing further escalation and restore peace in the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come out in full support of ally Azerbaijan by demanding that Armenia desist all provocative actions against it.
Russia Scrambles to Mediate
As expected, Moscow has taken serious note of these developments as it cannot afford another conflict in its backyard that would distract it from the ongoing Ukraine operation, where it has suffered some setbacks recently, especially territorial losses in the Kharkiv region, when key towns in the area were retaken by Ukrainian forces.
Nonetheless, responding to Armenia’s request to intervene under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of which Russia and Armenia are members, but Azerbaijan is not, Moscow has stepped in to bring both the parties to the negotiation table and restore the ceasefire. According to Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson of the Kremlin, President Putin is actively engaging leaders on both sides to resolve the tension at the earliest.
Implications for Russia’s Regional Involvement
If the two sides continue to escalate the violence despite regional and international efforts, the implications for Russia’s role in the region could be significant. Long regarded as the mediator of first instance in all disputes in the Caucuses, Russian supremacy both in Central Asia and the Caucuses may be challenged by Turkey, which allies itself strongly with Azerbaijan, as well as China. Not to mention the role of the EU, which has launched an aggressive charm offensive to wean away the two countries from Russian influence.
More important is the question of how long Russian can invest its energies in the Ukraine conflict at the cost of peace along the rest of its 20,241-kilometre border. For western powers desiring to divert Russia’s focus from its actions in Ukraine and ultimately bring the country down to its knees, such regional tensions could be very beneficial.