Armenia sought Russian military assistance Tuesday over deadly border clashes with Azerbaijan as Moscow’s forces remain embroiled in the Kremlin’s own war in Ukraine.
Russia expressed “extreme concern” after Armenia and Azerbaijan blamed each other for exchanges of fire around the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region that began at about midnight local time. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the clashes have killed at least 49 people.
Yerevan later accused Baku of “trying to advance” inside Armenian territory.
“The enemy continues to use artillery, mortars, drones and large-caliber rifles in the directions of Vardenis, Sotk, Artanish, Ishkhanasar, Goris and Kapan, targeting both military and civilian infrastructures,” the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan and Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu spoke by phone and agreed on “joint steps to stabilize the situation,” the defense ministry in Yerevan said.
Armenia’s security council, led by the Caucasus republic’s prime minister and president, gathered to invoke a mutual assistance and cooperation treaty with Russia, which spells out joint defense and military assistance in case of aggression toward signatories, the Armenian government said in a statement.
“It was decided to officially appeal to the Russian Federation in order to use the provisions of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance,” the statement reads.
The statement adds that Armenia will also turn to the Moscow-led security bloc of six former Soviet republics, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), as well as the UN Security Council for assistance.
Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported early Tuesday that Armenia has already submitted the formal appeals.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “extreme concern” and called on both sides to “refrain from further escalation of the situation, exercise restraint and strictly observe” a 2020 Moscow-brokered ceasefire.
The flare-up between regional foes Armenia and Azerbaijan is the latest in a series of reported shootouts along their shared border since the end of the 2020 war between Yerevan and Baku over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian officials have linked clashes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pro-government Azeri media seeking to discredit the 2,000-member Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Ukraine war has fueled rumors that Russia was withdrawing at least part of its peacekeepers into Ukraine and contributed to an escalation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, where ceasefire violations are common.
Last week, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of killing one of its soldiers in a border shootout. In August, Azerbaijan said it had lost a soldier and the Karabakh army said two of its troops had been killed and more than a dozen injured.
The neighbors fought two wars — in the 1990s and in 2020 — over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated enclave.
Six weeks of fighting in the fall of 2020 claimed more than 6,500 lives and ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
During EU-mediated talks in Brussels in May and April, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan agreed to “advance discussions” on a future peace treaty.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.
AFP contributed reporting.