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Who provoked the escalation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and why? Is Russia involved?

***Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Hyetert.***


Naira Hayrumyan, Yerevan

Could Russia be involved in the flare up of active hostilities on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan from July 12 to 15? Could this have been a “punishment” for the Armenian prime minister? Did the aggravated rivalry between Turkey and Russia, including over gas pipelines, play a role?

JAMnews picks apart these accounts in detail.

On July 12, a relatively small incident occurred on the border of the Tavush region of Armenia and the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan – a UAZ vehicle belonging to Azerbaijani forces began to approach Armenian positions.

This incident unexpectedly resulted in large-scale clashes with the use of combat drones and artillery on both sides. The clashes continued until June 15, when there was a relative lull.

The Armenian side says that four soldiers were killed.

The Azerbaijani side says it has 12 dead, including the chief of staff of the corps, the chief of artillery of the corps, and other officers.

According to Armenia, the Azerbaijani side also lost about 10 drones.

The Ministry of Defense of Armenia published a video of the defeat of the Azerbaijani drone ‘Elbit Hermes 900’, whose estimated cost is 30 million dollars.


1: Russia is trying to control Prime Minister Pashinyan

Russia-influenced media are actively discussing the idea that Russia was behind the provocation in Tavush, claiming Russia may be seeking to punish ‘disobedient’ Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

One of the arguments in favor of this theory is that Russia and the CSTO military bloc created by it have not openly supported Armenia, as, for example, Turkey did with respect to Azerbaijan.

Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan did not call on Russia for help, but while speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he stated that, having violated the ceasefire, Azerbaijan, among other things, encroached on the stronghold of the Russian armed forces located on the territory of Armenia.

However, Russia only proposed, and at the level of Putin’s spokesman, to become a mediator to resolve the tensions. To which Yerevan replied that its own army was coping with the situation and did not need help.

2: “gas dispute” between Turkey and Russia

According to Hayk Gabrielyan, an expert at the Armenian Institute for Security and International Affairs, the aggravation could have been triggered by a gas conflict between Turkey and Russia.

Gabrielyan says Russian gas supplies to Turkey have decreased by 40%, and instead, Azerbaijani gas supplies to Turkey and Europe should soon increase via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline, which passes through the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan.

This area borders on the Armenian Tavush, where the clashes took place.

Gabrielyan believes Turkey will try to deploy its military in Azerbaijan to protect the pipeline from Russian provocations, and does not rule out the possibility that “someone will set out to undermine the gas pipeline and dump responsibility on Armenia.”

3: rivalry between Turkey and Russia on issues related to Libya and Syria

This third version proposes Turkey is trying to gain bargaining chips in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in order to enter into a deal with Russia on Libyan and Syrian issues.

Turkey does not have a mandate to intervene in the conflict in Karabakh, but it can intervene if conflict comes to Nakhichevan, where, according to the Kars Agreement of 1921, it is the “patron” of Azerbaijan.

What’s next

Fighting at the time of publication of this article is on pause. International reactions will likely be of importance in how events play out next:

The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, the United States and France, which help lead the negotiation process on the Karabakh conflict, called for restraint and suggested that it might be worth returning observers to the region and continue monitoring the OSCE.

They were discontinued in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to return immediately to a ceasefire.

Similar calls came from UN Secretary General Anthony Guterres and the US State Department.

The Armenian National Congress of America said that “in the light of aggression against the borders of Armenia, the US House of Representatives will consider the suspension of military allocations to Azerbaijan on July 20.”

Neighboring Georgia and Iran took a neutral position, which official Yerevan has taken with understanding.

Ukraine expressed support for Azerbaijan, stating the need to maintain territorial integrity, which aroused the indignation of the Armenian authorities.

As expected, Turkey expressed unconditional support to Azerbaijan. The Armenian Foreign Ministry openly expressed indignation on this issue, as Turkey is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group.


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