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Nagorno-Karabakh: An Updated Analysis

In the latest developments to come out of the dispute Nagorno-Karabakh region between Azerbaijan and Armenia, new incursions have sparked fears of a renewed chapter in the long-running conflict seemingly ever-present in the South Caucasus.

Streaming out of multiple sources, Azerbaijani troops have pushed into Armenian-controlled territory in the Yerevan-backed Artsakh Republic, with sporadic and unconfirmed firefights breaking out resulting in several villages coming under control of Baku's troops.

According to OSINT coming out of the region, the villages of Lisagor (Turshsu), Yeghtsahogh (Sarybaba), Mets Shen (Boyuk Galadarasi), and Hin Shen (Kichik Galadarasi) were taken in a push by unknown units of the Azerbaijani military. The captured positions effectively cut off the Lachin Corridor road that connects Armenia with its Artsakh extension.

An Armenian soldier watches over a road in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo Credit: Sergei Grits/AP)

Officials in Yerevan and in the Russian peacekeeping contingent have accused Baku of violating the November 2020 trilateral statement signed after the Second Karabakh War.

However, according to Baku, the operations were in response to continuing shipments under cover of darkness and fog by Armenian troops to send men, munitions, and mines into the region.

"The transportation of manpower, ammunition, mines, as well as other military equipment from Armenia for illegal Armenian armed detachments in the territory of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeeping forces are temporarily deployed, has intensified in recent days," the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

"Taking into account the current situation, necessary local control measures were taken by the Azerbaijan Army Units to suppress the use of dirt roads north of the Lachin road for illegal activities, as well as the aggravation of the situation by the transportation of weapons and ammunition by Armenia and the commitment of potential provocations."

Responding to this, the Information Center of Nagorno Karabakh states "“Azerbaijan’s false claim on the alleged use of the Stepanakert-Ghaybalishen-Lisagor mountain road for arms shipments is simply a pretext for their own renewed aggressive and destructive actions."

Russian peacekeeping troops man a checkpoint along the Lachin Corridor. (Photo Credit: Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Russian peacekeeping contingent, there were no reported casualties, and they are investigating the incident, likely in contact with the Azerbaijani commander of the opperation to cut off the roads and request them to revert back to their positions. The conflict between long-time rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia, while only simmering under the surface, still stands the potential to explode back into open warfare, not dissimilar to what was seen in late 2020.

Azerbaijan, with its backers in Ankara, and Armenia, receiving more security guarantees (albeit conditionally) from Iran, stands to make the South Caucasus more of a proverbial powderkeg. Russia, losing influence in the region as their peacekeeping force is further discredited, will likely still attempt to keep a hold on power. This attempt ill likely include using Georgia as a thoroughfare.

The current Georgian government, already facing accusations of acting in a pro-Russian manner, allowed the peacekeepers to be air transported into Nagorno-Karabakh, something that angered many of the Georgian people at the time. With the potential of all-out war, it would stand to presume the Georgian government would allow Russia to use its roadways and air transport corridors to reinforce its garrison in Armenia.

However, Ankara is likely holding Baku back from taking the offensive due to Turkey attempting to play a "peacemaker" role between Russia and Ukraine. If they were seen supporting Azerbaijan on another of its anti-Armenian campaigns, this may soil its role and potentially unravel any geopolitical maneuvering at gaining more influence in the region or globally.

In recent days, both Armenian and Azerbaijani sources have claimed an increase in military activity near the disputed border regions. As has been standard with the two long-time rivals, each side has taken a ‘Cousin Vinny’ approach to responding to the other’s allegations - “everything that guy just said is bullsh!t”

This naturally leads to some difficulty in confirming some of the incidents. However, this also means that some things have to be taken at face value until something to the contrary comes to light. Armenia has shared many of the allegations that lead me to think Azerbaijan is indeed increasing its activity in the region - the question of ‘why’ is too much speculation for me.

Russian peacekeeping convoy patrolling in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Stringer)

Since the 2020 Karabakh War, official Azerbaijani military social media has been very open about showing new outposts and border stations being erected. While these videos are largely just propaganda, showing military leadership inspecting immaculately clean barracks, perfectly organized storage areas, and cleanly dressed soldiers standing tall for inspection, it is a subtle but notable creeping build-up of forward positions.

More recently, Armenia has alleged that one of its soldiers had been captured after becoming lost in the winding mountainous unpaved roads of the region. The MoD said in a statement that “on March 21, at around 12:20 p.m., serviceman of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia M. G., lost in the terrain and crossed into the Azerbaijani controlled territory with his vehicle, while transporting food to the outpost, in low visibility conditions and foggy weather, according to the preliminary information.”

Azerbaijan sources refuted this claim, sharing their own reports, along with video, that not only is Armenia shipping arms into its Artsakh territory, but that the Russian peacekeeping troops were providing cover and security for these gun-running operations. “Accompaniment of supply vehicles belonging to illegal Armenian armed detachments by the Russian peacekeeping contingent's units temporarily stationed in the Karabakh economic region was observed by the Azerbaijani side once again,” the MoD in Baku said.

“It was detected that the Armenian side also uses civilian vehicles for the purpose of military transportation,” the Azerbaijani MoD also alleged, “Thus, civilian vehicles moving from Armenia deliver contract service manpower and military cargo to a specified point near Turshsu village of Shusha region. Transportation of military personnel and military supplies to [the regional capital of] Khankendi [named Stepanakert to Armenia] by off-road military vehicles was also detected,” they added.

Iran has also been vocal about its opposition to another war or severe instability in the region, but largely expresses its intent to act against Azerbaijani should it become necessary. Various unconfirmed OSINT sources say the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has moved more of its military hardware into the northwestern regions of their country and the Iranian Air Force has been put on alert in nearby airbases.

While much of this could be dismissed as more regional tiffs, the volatility of the region and the apparent willingness of both Armenian and Azerbaijani troops to resort to hostilities first before questioning the situation can all too easily lead to a rapid downward spiral that diplomacy can not keep up with.

Cover Photo Credit: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

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