Russia made a concerted effort to end conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia after a fresh wave of fighting broke out in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Saturday, raising concerns over violence spreading in South Caucasus. Both the sides reported casualties, accusing each other of violating a ceasefire.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994. Azerbaijan frequently threatens to take Nagorno-Karabakh region back by force. Clashes around the region have fueled worries of a widening conflict breaking out in the region, which is crossed by oil and gas pipelines. So far, the two-decade-old conflict has left some 30,000 people dead. It may be noted that similar violence was reported last month.
“The enemy, using tanks, artillery and aviation made attempts to get deep into the defence lines of the Nagorno-Karabakh Army of Defence and capture tactical positions. The enemy was thwarted,” the Armenian Defence Ministry was quoted as saying on Saturday. The wave of violence has forced Russia, a key mediator in the conflict, to step up diplomatic efforts to quench it. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has urged both sides to observe an immediate ceasefire and “to exercise restraint so as to avert new human casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu have talked by phone with their Armenian and Azeri counterparts.
Lavrov has called on them to “deal with the situation to stop the violence”, while Shoigu called for “immediate measures to stabilize the situation in the conflict zone”. Azerbaijan said 12 of its soldiers had been killed and a helicopter shot down. TV pictures showed a burned out vehicle and craters after gunfire and shelling. Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of starting the fighting. Azerbaijan said its armed forces had come under fire first from large-calibre artillery and grenade-launchers, and that it had taken over two strategic hills and a village. The Armenian government said Azerbaijan had launched a “massive attack” with tanks, artillery and helicopters. Russia, which sells arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has called for an immediate ceasefire and to exercise restraint. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has spoken with his Armenian and Azeri counterparts – Seyran Ohanyan and Zakir Hasanov – by phone, Interfax reported.