Concerns Grow Over Potential War in Eastern Europe as Azerbaijan Launches Military Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
There is mounting concern that a new war could erupt in eastern Europe following Azerbaijan’s recent major military escalation in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has labeled its actions as an “anti-terrorist” operation, claiming that it is conducting “anti-terrorist measures of a local nature” to disarm and secure the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from its territories.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry has stated that its operations are specifically targeting legitimate military targets and not civilians or civilian facilities. It asserts that it is using high-precision weapons to incapacitate these targets. However, Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have reported heavy shelling of the region’s capital, Stepanakert, and other villages. The Armenian defense ministry disputes Azerbaijan’s claims and states that there is no corresponding evidence of Armenian military fire.
The escalation comes after a tragic incident where four soldiers and two civilians were killed in landmine explosions in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Azerbaijan’s interior ministry, state security service, and prosecutor-general, two employees of the highway department were killed when their vehicle was blown up by a mine. Additionally, a truckload of soldiers responding to the incident hit another mine, resulting in the death of four soldiers.
The Historical Context
Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the south of the country, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. However, its population is predominantly ethnic Armenians, and the region is currently under Armenian control with the support of Armenia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been intermittent conflicts between the two sides. In 2020, a 44-day war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia, resulting in Azerbaijan reclaiming approximately one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh. The war ended with an armistice, and Russian peacekeepers were stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh to maintain peace.
Since December, Azerbaijan has effectively blockaded the only route into Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor. This has further exacerbated tensions in the region.
The International Response
The European Union (EU) has condemned the military escalation and called on Azerbaijan to withdraw its forces from the region. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell emphasized the urgent need for dialogue between Baku and Karabakh Armenians. Borrell cautioned against using the military escalation as a pretext for forcibly displacing the local population.
The United States has stated that diplomatic engagement is underway to address the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to play a role in these efforts.
These latest hostilities occur amidst high tensions between Armenia and its ally, Russia. Armenia has raised concerns about the Russian peacekeeping force’s failure to keep the road to Armenia open, a duty stipulated in the agreement that ended the 2020 war.
The recent military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh has raised concerns over the potential outbreak of another full-scale war in eastern Europe. The history of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, coupled with the complexities of the ethnic and territorial disputes in the region, make it a delicate and volatile situation. International calls for dialogue and de-escalation are crucial in preventing further violence and creating an environment conducive to peaceful resolutions.