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Efforts to unblock Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia failed to produce results, and Baku and de facto leadership met to discuss energy supply issues.
Lachin blockade continued throughout month. Azerbaijani govt-backed activists’ blockade of Lachin corridor, only road linking Armenian-populated NK to Armenia, continued, worsening humanitarian crisis. Diplomatic efforts failed to produce breakthrough. Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 18 Feb met with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken at Munich Security Conference (MSC) (see Armenia and Azerbaijan), where Blinken highlighted importance of “free and open commercial and private transit through the Lachin corridor”. However, leaders same day engaged in panel discussion on security in South Caucasus, where Aliyev denied blockades’ existence. International Court of Justice 22 Feb ordered Azerbaijan to “ensure unimpeded movement” along Lachin corridor. Pashinyan 23 Feb said decision was “extremely important” and “satisfies Armenia’s claim”, while Azerbaijan claimed Armenian authorities had misrepresented ruling; UN and EU same day released statements noting court decision and repeating calls to open road.
Armenia and Azerbaijan debated control of corridors. During MSC, President Aliyev proposed establishing Azerbaijani checkpoints along Lachin corridor and creating similar Armenian checkpoints at Azerbaijan-Armenia state border along any future railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan via Armenia; Aliyev claimed Europe and U.S. had found proposal “logical”. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 22 Feb rejected proposal, saying Russian peacekeepers should retain control of Lachin corridor, as stipulated in 2020 ceasefire deal to end second NK war.
Baku and Stepanakert resumed meetings after dismissal of controversial de facto official. NK’s de facto leader, Araik Harutyunyan, 22 Feb dismissed Russian businessman Ruben Vardanyan as state minister, citing strategic differences in their approaches to internal and external issues; Vardanyan’s appointment in Nov 2022 had angered Baku, which claimed Moscow had sent him to NK “with a very clear agenda” and thus ruled out negotiations with him. One day after Vardanyan’s removal, Russian peacekeepers reported first talks between de facto leadership and Azerbaijani representatives on gas and electricity supply issues, which began after start of Lachin blockade.
Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia remained blocked, exacerbating humanitarian crisis and provoking international condemnation.
Blockade of NK remained in place, deepening humanitarian crisis. Azerbaijani-govt-backed “environmental activists” throughout month continued blocking Lachin corridor, which links NK with Armenia. Amid diminishing food and medical supplies in mountainous enclave, de facto authorities 17 Jan began rationing food using coupon system. Reports of hours-long queues to purchase food products from rural areas in de facto capital Stepanakert, home to around roughly half the entity’s population, also emerged. Local energy company ArtsakhGaz 17 Jan reported disruptions to gas and electricity supplies, forcing civilians to begin installing wood stoves for cooking and heating homes. De facto authorities 19 Jan closed schools over gas and electricity disruptions.
Despite international pressure, Baku warned blockade could last for long time. Russian peacekeepers 15 Jan facilitated meeting between representatives from Azerbaijan and de facto leadership to resolve crisis, but came away empty-handed. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan mid-Jan embarked on diplomatic offensive in Europe to spotlight “humanitarian crisis”, meeting with European Union (EU) institutions and EU member states, NATO and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. European Parliament 19 Jan condemned blockade, urging Azerbaijan “to immediately reopen” road. Armenia 30 Jan urged International Court of Justice to break up blockade, calling it part of an act of “ethnic cleansing”; Azerbaijan next day rejected claim, accusing Armenia of using dispute to create leverage at peace talks. Despite mounting pressure, President Aliyev 10 Jan told reporters blockade could continue for long time but did not clarify what actions could be taken to unblock corridor.
In other important developments. De facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 11 Jan appointed Sergey Ghazaryan, previously Stepanakert’s envoy to Yerevan, as de facto foreign minister. Azerbaijan 18 Jan filed interstate arbitration against Armenia under Bern Convention on Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats for destruction of environment and wildlife in NK.
Azerbaijan-backed protesters blocked vital transport link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), fuelling fears of looming humanitarian crisis.
Blockade of Lachin corridor fuelled concerns over humanitarian situation. While Armenia-Azerbaijan border stabilised in Dec (see Armenia, Azerbaijan), new crisis emerged at Lachin corridor, only road connecting Armenian-populated NK with Armenia. Tensions rose after Azerbaijani officials and AzerGold mining company 3 Dec started negotiations with Russian peacekeepers to allow inspections of two mines in NK due to alleged “illegal economic activity” and “damage to the environment”. Russian peacekeepers failed to secure visit, prompting dozens of Azerbaijani govt-backed “environmental activists” 12 Dec to conduct round-the-clock protests near Shusha town. Protesters blocked road during month, preventing movement of people and goods into and out of NK and fuelling fears of humanitarian crisis. Disruptions 12 Dec in natural gas supplies further aggravated situation, with de facto NK authorities 13 Dec announcing school closures due to weather conditions; gas supply 16 Dec resumed. Armenian PM Pashinyan 29 Dec announced Yerevan had approved additional $10mn in aid to ethnic Armenian population in NK.
Baku denied involvement in blockade and underplayed humanitarian risks. Azerbaijani foreign ministry 13 Dec blamed Russian peacekeepers for blocking corridor while Azerbaijani pro-govt media 16, 25 Dec released videos of Russian peacekeepers’ vehicles passing unhindered through Shusha to show that activists are not “blocking the road”. Azerbaijani state-owned Azariqaz gas company 14 Dec denied Azerbaijan’s role in disruption of gas supplies to NK. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s FM Bayramov 15 Dec dismissed fears of imminent humanitarian crisis as “an exaggeration”, saying Azerbaijan is “always ready to meet humanitarian needs of the Armenian residents living on our territories”.
Local and international pressure failed to resolve crisis. International actors, including European Union, U.S., Russia and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres called on Azerbaijani authorities to ensure free movement through corridor, while UN Security Council 20 Dec convened emergency session. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 23 Dec said Russian peacekeepers were working tirelessly to secure free passage through corridor amid criticism from Pashinyan. Meanwhile, thousands 25 Dec rallied in de facto capital Stepanakert, but Lachin corridor remained blocked by end of Dec.
Azerbaijan and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) authorities accused each other of targeting military positions and civilian areas in NK; disagreements over format of future NK negotiations continued.
Azerbaijan and de facto NK authorities traded accusations of ceasefire violations. Reports of sharp increase in attacks at military positions and nearby civilian areas along front line in NK conflict zone drew accusations and denials from Azerbaijan and de facto authorities in equal measure. Notably, Stepanakert 10 Nov said Azerbaijani shooting injured one farmer; Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 26 Nov reported downing of quadcopter allegedly used by de facto forces for surveillance purposes; Stepanakert 28 Nov said Azerbaijani forces injured two soldiers with mine launchers. Russian peacekeepers’ reports of stepped-up shootings aggravated tensions with Baku, which 24, 25 Nov accused mission of partial and biased reporting. Meanwhile, situation at Armenia-Azerbaijan border remained fragile following Sept clashes, with both sides reporting shooting along front line during Nov (see Armenia, Azerbaijan).
Azerbaijan accused Armenia of planting mines in NK conflict zone. Azerbaijan 23 Nov invited military attachés of several foreign states to observe hundreds of mines, reportedly produced in Armenia in 2021 and discovered around Sarybaba heights near Lachin corridor after being captured by Azerbaijani troops during Aug escalation. Baku also invited Russian peacekeeping mission and Russian-Turkish observation centres, mandated to prevent transportation of any weapons from Armenia to NK, to site. Yerevan and Stepanakert 24 Nov denied planting mines in area and accused Baku of staging it as pretext for provocation.
Stepanakert and Baku disagreed over format of future NK negotiations. Russian businessman Ruben Vardanyan 4 Nov became de facto state minister of NK; Azerbaijani President Aliyev 17 Nov ruled out possibility of negotiations with Vardanyan, who he said was sent from Moscow “with a very clear agenda”. In same statement, Aliyev confirmed willingness to speak with “Armenians who live in Karabakh” but excluded talks with de facto NK authorities; de facto FM Davit Babayan next day reiterated readiness to negotiate with Azerbaijan but only in “internationally recognised” format, namely “the OSCE Minsk Group”.
De facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) declared willingness for direct negotiations with Baku, while talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders drew mixed reactions.
Stepanakert declared readiness for direct talks with Baku. Armenia 5 Oct confirmed negotiations to establish “international discussion mechanism” between Baku and Stepanakert were under way. De facto NK FM Davit Babayan same day confirmed readiness for direct talks with Baku, adding that Baku should recognise NK as “full-fledged party to the conflict” so that all sides could negotiate as “equals”; Babayan also said talks should include Armenia and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group in order “to achieve a comprehensive settlement”.
Talks in Prague between Armenia and Azerbaijan prompted mixed reactions in NK. Following deadly violence along Armenia-Azerbaijan border in Sept, Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 6 Oct met in Czech Republic’s capital Prague for EU and French-mediated meeting (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Aliyev same day said sides were gradually moving toward peace, but reiterated that NK was Azerbaijan’s internal affair; added that Azerbaijani govt would continue to develop informal relations with NK Armenians. Prague meeting prompted mixed reactions in NK. Notably, protesters 8-9 Oct held sporadic rallies against being placed under Baku’s rule, while de facto authorities same day complained that Prague statement made no reference to NK. NK residents 30 Oct once more gathered in huge numbers for rally while de facto parliament, who organised rally, issued statement rejecting any peace deal envisaging Azerbaijani control over NK and urging authorities in Yerevan to “approach recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with reservations, taking into account the fact that the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict is not settled.”
In other important developments. Ahead of 31 Oct summit in Russia’s Sochi city, in which Russian President Putin brought together Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to discuss peace process, de facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 29 Oct expressed hope that meeting would “extend the term of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in NK indefinitely, since the Russian peacekeepers have undertaken a significant share of the effort to ensure the security of Artsakh and its population”.
Fragile calm prevailed in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) as deadly clashes erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan along state border.Disputed NK territory saw relative calm as deadly clashes flared in other areas. Amid high tensions following Baku’s military operation in NK early Aug, clashes 13 Sept erupted along Armenia-Azerbaijan state border, marking deadliest violence between two countries since six-week war in 2020. Fighting killed at least 207 Armenian and 80 Azerbaijani soldiers and forced 2,700 Armenian civilians from their homes (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Addressing UN General Assembly, PM Pashinyan said threat of new offensive remained “very high” and that “Azerbaijan intends to occupy more territories of Armenia”.International actors urged sides to continue normalisation process. Russia, U.S., EU and France 13 Sept called for peace and restraint. Russia 15 Sept called on Baku and Yerevan to “refrain from steps that could lead to increased tensions” and to fulfil “the ceasefire agreements mediated by Russia” that ended 2020 war; U.S. same day called for “comprehensive settlement of all remaining issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.
Azerbaijan launched military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), ending period of relative calm as clashes with ethnic Armenian forces left three dead. Amid reports Baku was pressing for speedy launch of new road linking NK with Armenia and demanding disarmament of local Armenian forces, de facto authorities 1 Aug said Azerbaijani forces wounded one soldier during clashes at north-eastern front, which Russian peacekeepers confirmed; same day said Azerbaijani forces were advancing in western and north-western fronts, and near main road connecting entity to Armenia, known as Lachin corridor. Baku 3 Aug launched military operation in NK, saying de facto NK forces killed Azerbaijani soldier in Lachin region during exchange of fire. Stepanakert same day said strikes killed two of its soldiers. Azerbaijan 5 Aug announced military had taken control of strategic Mount Buzdukh and adjacent heights. International community, including Brussels, Washington, Moscow and UN, 3-4 Aug urged parties to respect ceasefire. Azerbaijani defence ministry 4 Aug said tensions had eased. Following flare-up, de facto authorities in NK 5 Aug instructed Armenian residents from Lachin city and Zabukh village, located along Lachin corridor connecting NK with Armenia, to leave their homes by 25 Aug when area came under Azerbaijan’s control as part of 2020 ceasefire agreement. Armenian PM Pashinyan day before told congress that 2020 truce agreement required Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to establish joint “plan” for construction of new Armenia-Karabakh road before sections of existing Lachin corridor could be transferred to Azerbaijan’s control; he said no plan had been drawn up despite agreement. Azerbaijan 15 Aug announced completion of its part of new road to replace existing Lachin corridor. EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar 19 Aug met with senior representatives from Armenia and Azerbaijan in first senior bilateral meeting after escalation. Both countries’ leaders 31 Aug met in Brussels for EU-mediated talks, which concluded without major announcement. European Council President Charles Michel nonetheless said talks were “open and productive”, focused on humanitarian issues, transport links and border delimitation, and that both sides agreed “to step up substantive work to advance on the peace treaty”.
Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) remained calm amid EU and Russian mediation efforts. Calm persisted along front lines as Armenia and Azerbaijan prepared for new EU-mediated summit, with neither side reporting casualties during month. Russian President Putin 4 July spoke to Azerbaijani President Aliyev on sidelines of Caspian summit in Turkmenistan ahead of first substantial meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials on border demarcation and related security issues, which will take place in Russian capital Moscow in Aug. EU also continued to facilitate diplomatic efforts. European Council President Charles Michel 4 July spoke with Aliyev; EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar 13 July travelled to Armenia for meeting with Armenian PM Pashinyan and 15 July met Aliyev in Azerbaijan. Subsequently, Azerbaijani and Armenian FMs 16 July met for first bilateral talks in Georgian capital Tbilisi, where they reconfirmed their readiness for continued diplomatic engagement. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 25 July spoke with Aliyev and Pashinyan separately about “historic opportunity to achieve peace” and urged “further progress towards peace and stability in the region”. U.S. ambassador to Armenia 26 July reaffirmed willingness to use Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group as “platform” for renewed cooperation with Russia to facilitate settlement to NK conflict.
While security situation remained calm, diplomatic process between Yerevan and Baku did not advance significantly. Situation in NK remained calm throughout month: no reports of clashes, shootings or new causalities. Yet talks made little progress. Speaking to local media, Armenian PM Pashinyan 27 June accused Azerbaijan of undermining diplomatic efforts in order “to legitimise a new war”. Amid ongoing protests organised by Armenian opposition over govt’s stance regarding future status of NK, Pashinyan 15 June addressed parliament, saying that “any status” guaranteeing security, rights and freedoms of NK people should be considered “real solution”; he claimed alternative would be “annihilation not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but of Armenia as well”. Azerbaijani President Aliyev next day accused Armenian govt of raising NK’s future status despite “verbal agreement” to refrain from discussing topic; also used opportunity to criticise Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, saying it had achieved “zero results” in NK conflict settlement and that there was no need for it. Other parties insisted it remained important international format for negotiations. Notably, U.S. official 20 June praised Minsk Group’s continued relevance and highlighted U.S. readiness to cooperate with Russia on NK; Pashinyan 28 June echoed support for OSCE Minsk Group. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 24 June once more accused U.S. and France of trying to dismantle Minsk group. Disagreements over resumed operations of transportation route between mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia persisted (see Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Conflict zone remained calm, while thousands of Armenian protesters rallied against PM Pashinyan’s perceived negotiating position with Azerbaijan over territory’s future. Amid rising prospect of renewed peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan following both leaders’ statements in April, situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone remained calm during month, with no reports of clashes, shootings or casualties. Thousands of protesters 28 May rallied in de facto capital Stepanakert in support of Armenian opposition, while raising concerns about Armenian PM Pashinyan’s plans to enter talks with Azerbaijan on NK with perceived low demands on status of entity (see Armenia); largest protest held in Armenian-populated areas of NK since 2020 war. On diplomatic front, Pashinyan during visit to Netherlands 11 May criticised Azerbaijan for not responding to proposal to start discussions of NK status; Azerbaijan 12 May rejected criticism. Azerbaijani President Aliyev 19 May accused Armenia of making excuses to avoid real talks and border demarcation process; Armenia same day rejected accusation. After FMs of both sides met in Tajik capital Dushanbe, Pashinyan and Aliyev 22 May met in EU-facilitated talk in Belgian capital Brussels, agreeing that border demarcation teams would meet “in the coming days” (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Parties maintain different approaches to talks: Azerbaijan sees NK as domestic problem and wants Armenia to renounce territorial claims, while Armenia states its readiness to do so, providing Azerbaijan recognises that under revised NK’s status Armenians should be allowed to continue living in conflict zone.
Peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan gained momentum, triggering concern among de facto NK authorities and Armenia’s political opposition. After major flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) in March that resulted in Azerbaijani forces taking control of strategic mountains inside Armenian-populated areas, EU 6 April facilitated third meeting between Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev; pair agreed to instruct respective FMs to work on peace treaty and convene joint border commission by late April. President Aliyev 12 April said that Armenia during 6 April meeting accepted five principles of settlement proposed by Baku, which included mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and mutual affirmation of absence of territorial claims (see Azerbaijan). Armenian PM Pashinyan 13 April reiterated that Yerevan had accepted Azerbaijan’s proposals regarding peace agreement, including mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity (see Armenia). Momentum toward peace talks raised fears in NK and Armenia that Yerevan is preparing to cede NK’s control to Azerbaijan. Notably, Armenian opposition MPs 12 April travelled various villages in Armenia and NK; Russian peacekeepers in NK same day denied them entry, prompting Armenian foreign ministry to claim lack of access contradicted Nov 2020 ceasefire agreement. De facto NK leader Arayik Harutyunyan 13 April rejected “impossible” Azerbaijani rule over region, while de facto NK parliament 14 April demanded end to “disastrous” Armenian position. Harutyunyan 25 April said Pashinyan had previous day assured him that Armenia would not back any agreements on region’s status unacceptable to Karabakh Armenians. Meanwhile, war in Ukraine strained cooperation between West and Russia and raised doubt over Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 8 April accused U.S. and France of refusing to work with Russia in OSCE format following Russian invasion of Ukraine. French Co-chair 14 April and U.S. Co-chair 18 April visited Armenia to reiterate importance of Minsk Group in finding comprehensive settlement. Pashinyan and Russian President Putin 19 April met and reaffirmed Minsk Group as valid and important format.
Hostilities escalated in Nagorno Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, raising prospect of further clashes in April. Incidents mid-March rose in Armenian-populated areas of NK. Specifically, sides reported near-daily incidents close to mountainous eastern Agdam region (retaken by Azerbaijan following 2020 war) and road in south that connects Azerbaijan to Shusha town and runs near Armenian settlements. Notably, in first use of heavy weapons since 2020 war, mine shell 10 March injured resident in Armenian village Khramort and 120mm mine shell next day landed in Armenian village Khnapat, damaging local school; Azerbaijan 11 March denied attacks and blamed local Armenian forces for provoking tensions. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement Farukh located inside NK close to Khramort and Khnapat and next to strategic mountainous height called Karaglukh, which overlooks Agdam region and big parts of Armenian-populated NK; at least three Armenian soldiers reported dead and 14 injured, including in Azerbaijani attacks by Bayraktarks TB2 drones. U.S., France and Russian peacekeepers 26 March called on Baku to withdraw troops. Russian peacekeepers 27 March said Azerbaijan removed its troops from Farukh settlement; Azerbaijani Defence Ministry same day denied “changes in positions”. Previously, in sign viewed by Yerevan as increasing assertiveness along front lines, Azerbaijan during month continued use of loudspeakers to warn ethnic Armenians against conducting agricultural work and broadcast call to prayer in areas around Agdam region and in southern parts of Armenian-populated areas of NK. Gas pipeline from Armenia to NK 8 March stopped supply due to damage, leaving NK without heating for over one week; Azerbaijan 19, 27 March made repairs, announced that gas supply would be restored. In sign that prospects for talks remain dim, Armenia and Azerbaijan 14 March publicised their visions for resumption of negotiations, reiterating previous mutually exclusive positions: Baku demanded Armenian support to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and Yerevan insisted on respect of right for self-determination. With support from Russian peacekeepers, de facto NK authorities 7 March dispatched humanitarian cargo to separatist entities in Ukraine recognised by Russia.
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