Editor’s Note, 2:36 p.m. EST: This article was amended to reflect the resumption of Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenia’s eastern border.
The United States and France have directed unequivocal calls to Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops from Armenian territory as deadly attacks resumed on Armenia’s eastern border.
On the evening of September 28, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense reported that Azerbaijani forces opened fire on the eastern Armenian border using mortars and large-caliber weapons. Armenian officials say three soldiers were killed in the attacks. One Azerbaijani soldier was wounded, according to the MoD of Azerbaijan.
The Ministries of Defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of violating the ceasefire along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border every day between September 20-September 23. The Armenian Defense Ministry reported that one Armenian soldier was wounded on September 21, while the MoD of Azerbaijan said that three Azerbaijani soldiers were wounded on September 23.
On September 26, two days prior to the latest attacks, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price had urged the “disengagement of military forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.”
“Our message has been consistent for some time. We call on Azerbaijan to return troops to their initial positions,” Price said during a September 26 press briefing. “The use of force is not an acceptable path. We’ve made that clear privately. We’ve also made that clear publicly.”
French President Emmanuel Macron used similarly strong language during his meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Paris on September 26.
“Taking into account that there are occupied positions, France demanded that the Azerbaijani forces return to their initial positions,” Macron said. “I told President Aliyev on September 14 that the fact that the border is not demarcated cannot justify any advance into the territory of the other country.”
Macron reiterated “his demand for respect for the territorial integrity of Armenia” during a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev the next day. He called on Aliyev to “return to respect for the ceasefire and to maintain forces in their initial positions.”
French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu also insisted that “Azerbaijani forces must return to their initial positions” after a meeting with his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikyan on September 27. Lecornu announced that a French delegation will be sent to Armenia to “assess the situation.”
That same day, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan hosted Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, and Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, in Washington, DC. They discussed “pursuing time-bound and focused negotiations” and “identified concrete steps forward in support of a stable and lasting peace.”
The meetings follow a momentous trip to Yerevan by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking US official to visit the Republic of Armenia. Pelosi explicitly blamed Azerbaijan for the latest round of fighting, condemning the “illegal and deadly attacks from Azerbaijan on Armenian territory.”
The flurry of Western diplomacy in the South Caucasus follows a two-day war along Armenia’s eastern border from September 13-14, after Azerbaijan launched an unprecedented large-scale attack within the sovereign territory of Armenia. At least 207 Armenian soldiers and civilians were killed and 300 were wounded, while 60 homes were destroyed and 130 were damaged following intense shelling of 36 civilian communities in Armenia’s Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor and Syunik provinces, according to Armenian authorities. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reports 80 casualties and 284 wounded.
The United States played an instrumental role in mediating a ceasefire that went into effect on September 15, according to Armenian authorities. Four days later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov, the first direct talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders since the fighting.
Meanwhile, Russia has abstained from assigning blame for the latest escalation of tensions. Russian President Vladimir Putin called on “everyone to show restraint” while commenting on the fighting on September 20.
“Let me emphasize that any conflict situations between states close to us cause us serious concern,” Putin said.
Armenian authorities have expressed their dissatisfaction with Russia’s response to Azerbaijan’s attacks and the failure of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military bloc, to provide Armenia with military support.
Pashinyan warned during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 22 that the “risk of new aggression by Azerbaijan remains very high” and that “Azerbaijan intends to occupy more territories of Armenia.”
“Another factor for further escalation can be the inappropriate reaction to this situation by the regional security organizations, which raised very hard questions among Armenian society,” Pashinyan continued, in apparent reference to the CSTO.
Secretary of the Security Council Grigoryan went even further, stating that Armenian authorities have “no hope” that the CSTO would provide Armenia with military assistance in the face of Azerbaijani attacks during a September 16 interview.
Article 4 of the CSTO charter stipulates that an attack on one member will be treated as an attack on all. Armenia appealed to the CSTO under Article 4 in the hours following the start of the attack. The CSTO responded that it would send a fact-finding mission to Armenia to “assess the situation” and “prepare a report” for presentation to the CSTO member states later this year.
In addition to disgruntled comments from Armenian authorities, the perceived inaction on the part of Russia and the CSTO also sparked anti-Russian and anti-CSTO protests in Yerevan.
“We believe that the organization is outdated, useless and harmful for both the Republic of Armenia and other CSTO member sovereign republics,” said one protest organizer.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan said that Azerbaijan is “taking advantage of” the fact that Russia’s “attention is distracted” with other problems, in apparent reference to the ongoing war in Ukraine. He said that Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine has produced a “breach” in the security guarantees offered by the Russian peacekeepers deployed in Artsakh, during a September 19 speech.
Yet he continued on to call criticisms of the Russian peacekeeping mission a “provocation of a military and information nature aimed at undermining the role of the peacekeepers and creating mistrust towards Russia among the people of Artsakh” undertaken by “foreign hostile forces.”
“We look forward to the opportunity to increase the efficiency of the Russian peacekeeping mission and ensure its indefinite presence in Artsakh as the most important guarantee of the security of our people, regardless of its incomplete nature,” Harutyunyan said.
Weekly staff will be monitoring the latest developments and will report on updates and further escalations.