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Border crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues

19 May 2021
Lake Sev. Image via Armgeo.

Armenia’s Defence Ministry threatened that it may use force if Azerbaijani forces do not leave the Armenian territory ‘within a reasonable time’, six days after the country accused Azerbaijani troops of an incursion 3.5 km into its territory.

Negotiations between Armenian and the Azerbaijani officials have not yet bore fruit, and Azerbaijan skipped a negotiation session planned for Thursday. 

Armenia’s Defence Ministry stated on Wednesday that ‘additional Armenian military units were deployed in the area, completely depriving the Azerbaijani troops even from theoretically taking any action, leaving their withdrawal to their original positions as their only reasonable solution to the situation’.

On 13 May, acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described the situation as ‘near critical’, calling Azerbaijan’s actions ‘intolerable’.

The following day, Armenia applied for consultations with the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) under Article 2, according to which member states ‘shall immediately launch the mechanism of joint consultations’ in the case ‘of menace to safety, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty of one or several Member States’ with the purpose of ‘elimination of the arisen menace’.

The fresh tensions came almost half-a-year after a 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that cost over 6,000 lives, and delivered Azerbaijan control of much of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories formerly controlled by Armenian forces. A Russian-brokered deal signed in November brought some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh; Russian troops have also been stationed along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.  

France and the United States, both members of the OSCE Minsk Group — the international organisation tasked with helping resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — have been sharp in their criticism of Azerbaijan. The US National Security Council Spokesperson described Azerbaijan’s actions as ‘irresponsible’ and  ‘provocative’, while French President Emmanuel Macron stated he was ready to work on ‘transferring the issue to the UN Security Council’.  

Iran also expressed concerns about the situation, emphasising that ‘the territorial integrity of the countries of the region must be preserved’.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s main strategic ally — Russia, has remained relatively passive in its statements.

‘Defiance’ and ‘opportunity’ 

The escalation began one day after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov finished a round of visits to Yerevan and Baku to discuss the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

Since then, Russian officials have been relatively mild in their statements on the matter, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko telling journalists that ‘Russia will render assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan in resolving tensions on the border’ only if ‘such a request comes from both states’.

Meanwhile, the CSTO released a statement claiming that the CSTO was ‘closely following the developing situation’ and that ‘as the situation develops, necessary actions will be taken as stipulated in the collective security agreement’. 

Richard Giragosian, the Director of the Regional Studies Centre, a Yerevan-based think-tank, told OC Media that the tension along the border demonstrates ‘Azerbaijan’s open defiance and overt determination to challenge the Russian-imposed ceasefire agreement’. 

At the same time, he added, ‘it is precisely this scenario that presents an opportunity for Moscow to further expand its control of Armenia's external borders, possibly making the Armenian-Azerbaijan border areas the latest additions to the Russian presence in Armenia and adding to its control over Armenia's borders with both Turkey and Iran’.

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