At least 49 Armenian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Azeris were killed on Tuesday in the deadliest fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia since a 2020 war, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to call for calm.
Armenia and Azerbaijan each blamed the other for the renewed fighting which began overnight at several points along their border, raising fears of another major conflict in the former Soviet Union while Russia’s military is tied up in Ukraine.
Russia has peacekeeping troops in the Azeri-Armenian conflict zone as guarantor of an agreement that ended a six-week war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh two years ago.
Yerevan said Azerbaijan had shelled towns near the border including Jermuk, Goris and Kapan, forcing it to respond. Baku said Armenian sabotage units had sought to mine Azeri positions and began the shooting.
“It is difficult to overestimate the role of the Russian Federation, the role of Putin personally,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“The president is naturally is making every effort to help de-escalate tensions at the border.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine has undermined its status as a security guarantor in the region, leaving room for Azerbaijan to make more claims, according to Laurence Broers, associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme of Chatham House think tank.
Azerbaijan, which is politically and cutlturally linked to Turkey, made significant territorial gains in 2020, reclaiming land it had lost to ethnic Armenians in an earlier war over Nagorno-Karabakh 30 years before.
“Since February, we also have been seeing the collapse of Russia’s reputation as a security patron and a provider of security in the region,” Broers said. “That has created a window of opportunity for Azerbaijan, recalling that the outcome of the second war in 2020 left unfinished business.”
The CSTO, a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet states which includes Armenia but not Azerbaijan, was meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
Turkey reiterated its support for its ally, with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar quoted by his ministry as saying that Turkey “will continue to stand by it (Azerbaijan) in its just causes.”
“Responsibility for the provocation, clashes and losses lies with the military-political leadership of Armenia,” Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said. “Any actions against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan will be resolutely prevented.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of attacking Armenian towns because it did not want to negotiate over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave which is inside Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.
He said the intensity of hostilities had decreased but attacks from Azerbaijan continued.
Azerbaijan, which accused Armenia of carrying out intelligence activity along the border and moving weapons, said its military positions came under attack by Armenia. It said it sustained losses but did not disclose the number of casualties.
Azerbaijani media reported that a ceasefire agreement had been broken almost immediately after being enforced early on Tuesday.
Both Russia and the United States, at loggerheads over the Ukraine war, called on Baku and Yerevan to observe restraint.
“As we have long made clear, there can be no military solution to the conflict,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We urge an end to any military hostilities immediately.”
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan “should be resolved exclusively through political and diplomatic means”.
The defence ministers of Armenia and Russia spoke on Tuesday morning and agreed to take steps to stabilise the situation on the border. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks with his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov and called for Armenia to “cease its provocations”.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, also urged the sides to de-escalate. Michel met with Pashinyan and Azerbaijaini President Ilham Aliyev last month in Brussels for talks on the normalisation of ties between the countries, humanitarian issues and the prospect of a peace treaty over Nagorno-Karabakh.
EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar was set to travel to both countries to support efforts to curb the violence.
France will bring up the clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan at the U.N. Security Council, the office of President Emmanuel Macron said, adding that Macron continued to urge both sides to stick to a ceasefire.