A three-day artillery shelling, killing at least a dozen and a half on both sides, is the prospect of a new full-scale clash with the possible involvement of third countries. In addition, there was a statement by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry that provoked active protests from one of the parties to the conflict and rallies near the Ukrainian embassy.
All this is about the next page of the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This time the aggravation did not take place in the "traditional" territory of self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh. The shooting took place on an internationally recognized section of the border between the two South Caucasus countries - between the Tavus region of Armenia and the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan.
And this significantly increases the risks of further escalation.
Assault on one UAZ
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has been going on for over 30 years. And although its hottest phase remained in the 1990s, when Azerbaijan lost control of part of its territory, the two countries are still formally at war.
Because of this, local clashes between their military take place every few years. This is facilitated by the fact that the border between the countries is not delimited, and therefore is a gray area in which each side is trying to take a strategic position.
As is often the case in this conflict, the statements of Yerevan and Baku about the preconditions for the current aggravation are unrecognizable.
Armenia's position is that on Sunday, July 12, a UAZ car with Azerbaijani soldiers was approached, approaching an Armenian base (either confusing the road in the mountains, or stumbled upon a newly built point, the existence of which was unknown), after whereupon the military abandoned the car and retreated to their positions.
The Armenian side presents this fact as an attempt to seize a stronghold, which seems somewhat dubious. After the escape of the military, according to Yerevan, the Azerbaijani side opened artillery fire, and the Armenian military opened fire in response.
Azerbaijan teaches a fundamentally different vision of this history. Baku emphasizes that the Armenians were the first to open fire on their positions, to which they were forced to respond. "An artillery strike was inflicted on our military post without any grounds," said President Ilham Aliyev.
Azerbaijan has so far confirmed the deaths of 11 troops, including Major General Polad Hashimov.
However, official Baku claims that in response they killed a much larger number of Armenian soldiers.
"As a result of severe punitive measures taken against the enemy, in the afternoon of July 13, our units destroyed fire positions, a reconnaissance radar station, a military vehicle storage, a tank, an armored personnel carrier, more than 20 servicemen, and a staff headquarters. Armed Forces of Armenia, "the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said.
However, in Yerevan they confirm the death of only four (all from drone strikes) and the wounding of five of their servicemen. However, given that the conflict is far from resolved, it is possible that these figures will increase.
Each side also accuses the other of deliberately striking at civilian infrastructure.
Conflict on a pandemic background
The last significant military clash between Baku and Yerevan took place in 2016. However, this is a fundamental difference, then the conflict took place on the border with the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh.
As a result, Azerbaijan managed to capture a number of strongholds in the north of the region.
This time the conflict takes place on the border of the two countries, which is internationally recognized, and repeats the Soviet border between the two republics. However, the shelling, blamed by both countries, has taken place there before, albeit on a smaller scale.
But if in the case of new confrontations in Karabakh, the international community has mechanisms to manage them (freezing), then there is no such tool for border conflicts.
Another important point: despite the long conflict, the parties have refrained from military clashes for the past two years. This was facilitated by an agreement between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Now it is, in fact, destroyed.
Some observers say that even if the conflict arose by accident, it has been beneficial to the authorities of both countries.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan suffer from the effects of the coronavirus and need a history that will divert public attention. Therefore, shifting the focus from economics and health to safety is beneficial for both parties.
At the same time, however, it gives hope that the escalation at the border will not escalate into a full-scale conflict. Or at least that this is not the goal of at least the Azerbaijani government.
In particular, large-scale patriotic rallies in Baku, whose participants demand mobilization, are not propaganda steps of the authorities, but the result of many years of forming the image of the enemy and anti-Armenian sentiments and militarization of the country.
Accordingly, these rallies are not organized by the authorities to justify further escalation. The latter is evidenced by the course of protests, in particular - the storming of parliament and clashes with police.
Although other experts believe that the coronavirus only warmed the mood, and the situation has worsened since the beginning of the year, including due to the actual abandonment of the Madrid Principles. We are talking about the plan for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict approved in 2007, the basic point of which is the return of the territories around Karabakh, which is currently controlled by Armenia, to Azerbaijan.
Diplomatic support for this conflict has become no less important.
Turkey "added gasoline to the fire", completely sided with Baku. "We will stand by the Azerbaijani army, support our brothers in accordance with the principle of 'one nation, two states,'" Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also unequivocally condemned Armenia's actions.
Instead, Russia, considered a strategic ally of Armenia, has avoided such support. The day after the clashes began, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a very brief and calm statement, calling on both sides to exercise restraint.
And in the future, Russia avoided any steps in support of its ally.
Russia's "analogue of NATO," the Collective Security Treaty Organization (excluding Russia and Armenia, which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan), said only that it "took note" of the situation. Although there were initially statements about an extraordinary CSTO convocation, it was very quickly postponed indefinitely.
This decision could worsen relations between Armenia and Russia. Although official Yerevan does not comment on such "assistance", a number of parties and NGOs have already expressed doubts about the expediency of their country's membership in such a security organization.
At the same time, the current conflict could worsen Armenia's relations with Ukraine, which for decades has tried to balance the conflict between the two states, but has always stood in support of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, much to Armenia's displeasure. This position of Ukraine has become even more articulate after the illegal annexation of Crimea.
Yerevan was outraged by a statement by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.
In it, Kyiv called on the parties to make every effort to de-escalate the situation and continue to find ways to resolve the conflict peacefully on the basis of universally recognized principles and norms of international law, as well as UN Security Council resolutions of 1993.
However, Armenia was offended by another passage of the Ukrainian statement: "The Ukrainian side supports a political settlement of the situation on the basis of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders."
Such a statement could be appropriate in the event of the Karabakh conflict, in which Kyiv has consistently supported Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. However, in this case we are not talking about "disputed" borders; this turned out to be enough to offend Yerevan. Such a passage prompted the Armenian Foreign Ministry to summon Ukrainian Ambassador Ivan Kuleba.
Unfortunately, the insult to Ukraine did not end there. In particular, the youth wing of the non-parliamentary Dashnaktsutyun party held a protest rally outside the Ukrainian embassy, in addition to pouring borscht over its gates.
And given that this conflict is imbued with emotion, further steps cannot be ruled out. And the presence (or absence) of real grounds for accusations against our state will not necessarily be decisive in this story.
Author: Yuri Panchenko,
editor of "Європейської правди"
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