Saturday

23rd Jan 2021

Shelling destroys Russia's Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire

  • Explosions reported in Stepanakert (pictured) and Ganja hours after Moscow talks ended (Photo: Marco Fieber)

A Russia-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has broken down shortly after it was agreed on Saturday (10 October).

Armenia said Azerbaijan shelled civilian targets in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, killing two people, moments after the deal went into effect.

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Azerbaijan said Armenian forces did the same, killing one civilian.

The shelling went on, with explosions reported in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert, later on Saturday, and with a strike on Azerbaijan's second largest city, Ganja, said to have killed nine people.

And fighting continued on Sunday, with Armenia saying it had repelled attacks by Azerbaijani tanks and armoured vehicles.

The ceasefire had earlier been welcomed by the EU and by the Minsk Group - a diplomatic forum chaired by France, Russia, and the US.

But EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday there was "extreme concern" in the EU about "continued military activities, including against civilian targets, as well as civilian casualties."

And the rhetoric between the warring parties did not bode well.

Nagorno-Karabakh promised a "disproportionately harsh" reaction if Azerbaijan did not back down.

And Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev said: "We'll go to the very end and get what rightfully belongs to us".

Azerbaijan also said its ally Turkey should, in future, be included in the Minsk Group, while Turkey accused Armenia of "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

"Turkey will continue to stand by Azerbaijan in the field and at the table," its foreign ministry said.

The violence, in a region crossed by oil pipelines, has so far killed some 450 people in the worst hostilities since full-scale war ended in 1994.

It also threatens to pull in neighbouring powers Iran, Russia, and Turkey, with Turkey already accused of sending Syrian jihadist mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan's side.

Saturday's ceasefire came after 10 hours of talks between the Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Moscow.

It would have been a diplomatic coup if it had held.

But one expert, Dmitry Trenin, from the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a think-tank, said the Kremlin could not stand by if the situation continued to escalate.

"For Russia, the most important issues in the South Caucasus are the security of Russian borders from jihadis coming from the Middle East and elsewhere, and Turkey's rising role in the region," he said.

"This means that Moscow can't walk away from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and allow a war to rage", Trenin, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, added.

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