In a region already distracted with a potential Russian intervention in Belarus, two former Soviet republics are coming to blows in the volatile Caucasus region, raising concerns they could lead to wider war which may engulf Russia and Turkey. Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan with tanks, artillery helicopters, and infantry, erupted on Sunday over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Each side blamed the other for the violence.
The Caucasus region is strategically significant as a key transit point for oil and gas pipelines connecting to the world market.
Russia has historically backed Armenia, supplying the country with enormous weapons of all sorts since the end of its 1994 war with Azerbaijan. It also has a mutual defense agreement with Armenia that could be activated if the fighting crossed into Armenia.
“Trespassing into former Soviet territory with arms is not something Russia will look kindly at,” Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “That could cross a red line” not passed before, he said.
Turkey, a NATO member, has long had friction with neighboring Armenia, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, overtly supports Azerbaijan. Erdogan fueled the flames when stated on Twitter, according to Foreign Policy, “we also call on the world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty.”
Foreign Policy reports that Armenia declared martial law and has initiated a full military mobilization, including calling up reserves. “Get ready to defend our sacred homeland,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a post on Facebook.
Turkey reportedly transferred militants out of Syria and into Azerbaijan days prior to the clashes, noted Foreign Policy.
Azerbaijan’s also declared martial law, though it stopped short of full military mobilization. However, according to the New York Times, “Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, ordered a partial mobilization of reserves and the country’s military on Monday, and, in the clearest terms yet, stated a goal of seizing territory.”
Azerbaijani general, Mayis Barkhudarov, reportedly stated his country’s military goals more graphically in the state news agency. The New York Times quoted the general as saying, “The Army Corps under my command will fight to the last drop of blood to completely destroy the enemy and win.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave, which nominally falls under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction. As Foreign Policy notes, the “region gained de facto independence at the end of the war and has developed deep ties with Armenia, but its status remains a source of considerable hostility between the two sides.”
Everything we are seeing and hearing now though appears to indicate “that the two sides — Azerbaijan and Armenia — are girding for an extended conflict rather than the border skirmishes that they have engaged in over the years,” reports the New York Times.
This could add yet another major flashpoint for war to an already overcrowded list of potential conflict spots across the globe.