Azerbaijan announced it was taking “localized anti-terrorist measures” on Tuesday, with reportedly intense artillery firing into the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The measures come hours after four soldiers and two civilians were reportedly killed by landmines in the enclave, which Azerbaijan attests were planted by “Armenian separatists.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is a majority ethnic Armenian territory which has been the source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1988, with the most recent war over the dispute occuring in 2020. It is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is partly controlled by the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, historically supported by Armenia.
The 2020 war ended with Azerbaijan retaking parts of the region, and an agreement that placed a Russian peacekeeping force on the Lachin Corridor – a road from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia – to keep it open. However, tensions have increased since Azerbaijan began blockading the road in December, alleging it was being used to smuggle weapons and illicitly extract resources. As food shortages ensued from the blockade, Armenia fired back that Azerbaijan was attempting “ethnic cleansing” by starvation.
The artillery strikes have raised fears that a third war could now break out over the disputed region.
The blockade has also damaged Armenia’s relationship to Russia – which it has long been an ally of – with the larger country focusing on the war in Ukraine to the detriment of its ability to support Armenia militarily. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently called the country’s reliance on Russia for defense a major strategic blunder.
“Even if it wishes so, the Russian Federation cannot meet Armenia’s security needs,” Pashinyan told Italian newspaper La Repubblica this month.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated the U.S. was “deeply concerned by Azerbaijan’s military actions in Nagorno-Karabakh” and called for an immediate cessation.
“These actions are worsening an already dire humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and undermine prospects for peace… We call for an immediate end to hostilities and for respectful dialogue between Baku and representatives of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.”