New clashes erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia early Tuesday in a conflagration that presents Russian President Vladimir Putin with yet another major strategic headache.
Moscow is being asked to step in to stabilize this serious flare-up in the Caucasus just as Putin has been thrown onto the back foot by an unexpectedly successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces. Armenia looks to Moscow as the main ally that can guarantee its precarious security, while Turkey is the key supporter of Azerbaijan.
According to local reports, Azeri shelling was reported in Armenian towns such as Jermuk and Goris.
Armenia said about 50 people had been killed on its side, while it’s unclear how many died on the Azeri side. The countries blamed each other for escalating the attacks. Significantly, the assault was outside the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh — an Armenian-controlled enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan — which has been the source of tension for decades.
Baku accused Armenia of “targeting civilian objects and innocent people,” while saying Azerbaijan’s forces were merely launching “local” countermeasures directed against “legitimate military targets.”
The Armenian defense ministry in turn blamed Azerbaijan for carrying out a “large-scale provocation.” It added that Baku was shelling from “artillery, mortars, drones and large-caliber guns both at military and civilian infrastructures.”
During an emergency security meeting, Armenian authorities appealed to Russia, the U.N. Security Council and the Collective Security Treaty Organization — a Eurasian security organization counting six selected post-Soviet countries — to step in.
After talks between Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, Yerevan and Moscow have agreed on joint steps to “stabilize the situation,” the Armenian defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Shortly after the fresh clashes erupted, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had a phone conversation with Putin. He also called French leader Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
In a statement, Blinken said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the attacks on the border, and called for “the immediate cessation of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
The simmering dispute over the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh flared up in 2020, as a six-week war claimed more than 6,500 lives, and in which Azerbaijan’s troops regained control over large swaths of territory. It led to a cease-fire agreement in the region, enforced by Russian troops on the ground. There was another short outbreak of violence last month.
Russia remains a regular presence, but the peacekeeping efforts of the Kremlin have been questioned by both sides, with the EU increasingly working to fill the gap. In May, led by Michel, the leaders of both countries held talks on how to avert future clashes.