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Shots Fired Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Updated: Apr 23

On the night of April 5, gunfire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces was initially reported.  The intensity varied along the border, as reported by the Armenian Ministry of Defense. Shots were exchanged between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces close to  the regions of Tovuzgala, Basarkechar, Goris and the village of Ishkhanasar, with reports of troop movements and military equipment concentrations, although confirmation of these maneuvers was not yet attained at the time.

On  April 10th, a shootout between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place near Khndoresk village, located approximately 12 km away from the border with Azerbaijan at the level of the Lachin Corridor, causing one injured Azeri serviceman. The latest reports of the use of firearms at the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan near Tovuz-Tavush reached us on Saturday, April 13, 2024, via X (formerly Twitter).

By exploiting the imprecise border demarcation, both sides aim to consolidate their positions. For Armenia, the message is clear: Azerbaijan is preparing to forcibly open the Zangezur corridor with the exclave, Nakhchivan located 25 km away in a straight line, cutting the country in two. 


Violations of the ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border have been recorded for seven consecutive days following the meeting of the Armenian Prime Minister with US Secretary of State Blinken and Commission President Von Der Leyen and others to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of NATO.  Whether this is directly related is still unclear and has not been officially stated. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan announced a commando training at a military operation center near Ashagi Seyfali on April 6, 40 km from the border with Armenia. Whether the movements of the Azerbaijani military, framed by Baku as a training operation, may be interpreted as a response to the aforementioned meeting between the US, the EU, and Armenia, cannot be conclusively proven. 

The potential danger of forcibly establishing a land corridor between the Azerbaijani mainland and its exclave, the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (ARN), may have prompted the Armenian side to respond to the current situation by deploying a contingent of troops to the heights of Ishkhanasar. 

President Aliyev's geostrategic calculation could point to the creation of a direct land connection between Azerbaijan and Turkey. The ARN borders not only Armenia and Iran but also Turkiye at the Sadarak border crossing, in the extreme northwest of the exclave. This would provide an alternative to the Zangezur corridor, also known as the Nakhchivan corridor.

The Zangezur Corridor plays a crucial role in the conflict in the South Caucasus, especially between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan aims to control it to establish a connection between Turkey and its exclave Nakhchivan. This corridor would  enable the free movement of goods and people between Turkey and the Turkic-speaking Central Asian republics. The control of this corridor is strategically important for Azerbaijan and Istanbul, as it supports Turkey's ambitions to strengthen ties with the Caspian Basin and the Turkic-speaking Central Asian region.

The escalation around the Zangezur Corridor has led to tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Armenia condemning Azerbaijan's occupation of parts of its sovereign territory. The establishment of the Corridor by Azerbaijan impacts bilateral trade between Yerevan and Tehran, as a significant portion of goods is transported through this route. Thus, control over Zangezur is a central point in the conflict between the two countries and has far-reaching political and economic implications for the region.

Russia's diminishing role as a mediating actor in the region:

Russia has entered security guarantees both bilaterally, and within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), committing to defend Armenia in case of an attack. The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia that was established in 2002. The current members of the organization are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The alliance stems from the 1992 Collective Security Treaty (CST), signed in Tashkent by the heads of state of the aforementioned countries. Later, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus joined, with Tbilisi withdrawing in 2008.

The main goals of the CSTO include ensuring national and collective security, intensive political-military cooperation, coordinating foreign policy on international and regional security issues, creating multilateral cooperation mechanisms, including a military component, and developing cooperation in combating modern challenges and security threats. However, Russia responded to Armenia's request with some restraint, which was interpreted in the Armenian press as an unclear position. The relationship between Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan is characterised by a certain ambivalence, making Russia's role in this conflict complicated. 

The war in Ukraine further exacerbated these tendencies. As the Russian army had to concentrate its forces in Eastern Ukraine, a power vacuum emerged in the South Caucasus, which Azerbaijan used to its advantage to bring the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, mostly inhabited by Armenians, and also known as the de facto Republic of Artsakh, under its control in September 2023. Baku’s official statement;"The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared independence in 1991, should be reintegrated into Azerbaijan."

Apparently, in 2020 as well as three years later, Russia primarily mediated the ceasefire in close coordination with Turkey and Azerbaijan, shifting from its role as Armenia's protector to a mediator in the region, which Yerevan reluctantly accepted. Moscow's strategic reorientation is not only due to its concentration of Russian military capabilities towards the north. The importance of bilateral diplomatic relations with Istanbul was once again highlighted by the war in Ukraine. This explains Russia's reluctance to unilaterally intervene on Armenia's side in the conflict at least on a military level. The Kremlin does not want to alienate its strategic partners in the South Caucasus, thus, a change in Russia's regional foreign policy was an inevitable but foreseeable endeavour. Currently, Russia lacks the diplomatic leverage and military capacity to influence the region hegemonically according to its interests.

NATO’s role in the geostrategic reshaping of the region: 

The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, completed a three-day visit to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia at the end of March 2024, to reaffirm NATO's support for its longstanding partners in the South Caucasus region. Throughout his visit, he engaged with leaders and ministers from each country, and paid a visit to the NATO Liaison Office in Georgia. Stoltenberg reiterated NATO's dedication to enhancing partnerships with allied countries, and underscored the significance of regional stability for Euro-Atlantic security. Additionally, he urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to take bold measures towards achieving lasting peace following years of conflict.

If NATO, in cooperation with the European Union and Istanbul, succeeds in mediating the conflict between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis, the alliance could establish itself as a peacemaking actor in the region, giving its image a fresh, positive touch,  and therefore enhancing its position in the region, and setting the table for further enlargement in the South Caucasus. 

Amid an Iran-Israel escalation, Azerbaijan's pro-Israeli stance could see Israel seeking to use it as a base for attacks on Iran. Israel's ambassador in Baku already noted that "we are next door", and sometimes visits border regions near Iran for political purposes. Closer political and military integration of the Republics of Transcaucasia into NATO structures could also provide Baku the necessary security umbrella, to serve Israel as a reliable partner in the region. 

It is therefore obvious that NATO is extending its reach into the South Caucasus, and intensifying its approaches towards Baku, Yerevan and Tbilisi. The war in Ukraine offers the alliance a window of opportunity. As Moscow had to relocate its military capacities elsewhere, it created a power vacuum, which the military alliance is posturing to fill.

Assuming the plan succeeds, and NATO were to admit the three South Caucasus Republics into the alliance, it would counteract the Moscow-Tehran axis and establish a land bridge between the NATO member Turkey, and the Republic of Azerbaijan bordering the Caspian Sea. 

Assessment and Outlook:

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated in an interview with the broadcaster France 24 on February 23, that Yerevan has practically frozen its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Pashinyan cited that the reason for further distancing from Moscow was the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) not fulfilling its obligations towards Armenia, especially in the context of the last two Karabakh wars in 2020 and 2023.

After the attacks, Armenia increasingly turned towards the West. Pashinyan stated that his country is currently working with the EU and the USA to implement a series of democratic reforms and strengthen its democracy. Additionally,  arm deals with France are also planned.

Therefore, the press statement by Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, that Armenia will not participate in the CIS summit on April 12 in Minsk, can be interpreted as another step in the decoupling of the Moscow-Yerevan axis. 

Even if multilateral rapprochement talks between Armenia, NATO and the EU continuously increase, it is still unclear in what framework and at what pace Western alliances and institutions will strategically bind Armenia to themselves. However, the signs point towards a determined cooperation, while simultaneously decreasing Russian influence in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Image: Минобороны России

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