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26th Jan 2023

Russia and West alarmed by fresh war drums on Armenia

  • No international monitors on the scene to verify claims (Photo: nkrmil.am)
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At least 49 Armenian soldiers have reportedly been killed by Azerbaijan in a conflict highlighting the fragility of the former Soviet region beyond Ukraine.

"For the moment, we have 49 killed and unfortunately it's not the final figure," Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan told his parliament on Tuesday (12 September).

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Azerbaijan had fired on the Armenian border towns of Jermuk, Goris, and Kapan using drones, mortars, and long-range artillery in the small hours of Tuesday, Armenia said.

The killings were meant to scupper upcoming talks on the future status of a fiercely-disputed mountain region — Nagorno-Karabakh — Pashinyan also said.

Azerbaijan denied any ceasefire violation and accused Armenia of moving weapons systems to sensitive spots, in a conflict with no international monitors on the contact line to verify claims.

Its local ally, Turkey, also gave its weight to Azerbaijan's denials. "Armenia should cease its provocations," Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said.

The flare-up in tension prompted wider diplomacy.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and defence minister Sergei Shoigu (who are both on an EU blacklist for invading Ukraine) brokered a stop-firing deal in calls with Yerevan and Baku.

French president Emmanuel Macron called a UN Security Council debate in New York.

The US secretary of state and the EU foreign relations chief also called for restraint. The "dangerous escalation needs to stop," the EU's Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

Peace aside, the EU is also interested in buying more gas from Azerbaijan to reduce dependence on Russia.

The last time the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict restarted, two years ago, it claimed 6,500 lives in six weeks of fighting that ended with Russia sending in a large peacekeeping force.

The 2020 ceasefire deal made Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who arranged it, look like great powers deciding the destinies of their neighbours.

But any new violence now makes Putin look weak, posing questions over Russia's capability as a US-model security guarantor for the smaller members of its Nato-type Collective Security Treaty Organization.

It highlights the wider security challenges Europe faces in the neighbourhood of the Ukraine war — an area in which Russia is trying to rebuild its Cold War-era influence.

These include frozen conflicts and Russian soldiers in breakaway parts of Georgia and Moldova. The nearby Russian province of Chechnya also has a bloody modern history.

The Armenia-Azerbaijan war started in the late 1980s and involved ethnically-motivated massacres on both sides.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but has a majority-Armenian population.

It was controlled by Armenia until 2020, when Azerbaijan reconquered it.

Analysis

Credibility of EU's Michel on line in Caucasus flare-up

The progress, publicly-touted, by EU Council president Charles Michel's puts his credibility on the line when it comes to forging a lasting Azeri-Armenian peace. And it's a test of the EU's capacity as a credible mediator in its own backyard.

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