Azerbaijan Attack on Armenia Raises Stakes in Karabakh Conflict

105 Zulfugar Agayev and Sara Khojoyan

Baku defends strike to Russia as Armenia threatens retaliation

Worst fighting in decades continues despite truce accord

Azerbaijan said it attacked military installations inside Armenia for the first time in more than two weeks of fighting over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a move that risks pulling Russia more deeply into the conflict.

Ballistic missile systems in Armenia were “neutralized” to prevent attacks on Azerbaijani cities, according to the Defense Ministry in Baku. Armenia’s Defense Ministry denied any threat to civilians from military equipment it said was “on combat alert” and warned it may retaliate.

The development threatens to bring a mutual defense pact between Russia and Armenia into focus as the worst fighting in decades over Nagorno-Karabakh continues in defiance of a cease-fire accord that took effect Saturday. The agreement doesn’t cover Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Russia is studying reports of the incident, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday on a conference call, declining to comment on whether it would trigger obligations under the defense accord. Armenia hasn’t publicly sought help from Russia under the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is backing Azerbaijan in the conflict, spoke by phone at the Turkish initiative, according to a Kremlin statement Wednesday. It was the first publicized call between the two since hostilities began in late September.

The two leaders spoke of stepping up the political process using the OSCE Minsk Group and highlighted Turkey’s role in encouraging de-escalation as a member of the body that is leading the mediation efforts. Russia, France and the U.S. are the group’s co-chairs.

Situation around #NagornoKarabakh predictably reaches next level: Putin speaks to Erdogan. Eventually, the conflict will be dealt with by Russia and Turkey.

— Dmitri Trenin (@DmitriTrenin) October 14, 2020

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Turkey should have a big role in the region.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov defended the strike on what he called “legitimate military targets” in Armenia in a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry in Baku.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged losing control of some territory in the fighting during a televised address to the nation Wednesday, but said his forces would “fight to the end” to defend Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan during a war amid the collapse of the Soviet Union that was halted by a Russia-brokered truce in 1994. Mediation efforts since then by Russia, France and the U.S. have failed to resolve the conflict.

(Updates with Putin-Erdogan call in fifth paragraph)



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