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Last weekend was marked by a new round of military escalation between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
On December 12, Azerbaijan attacked the villages of Khtsaberd and Khin Taher, which were in the hands of Armenian militia units. After a series of clashes with the Armenians, they established control of Khtsaberd and deployed in the vicinity of Khin Taher. On December 13, Armenia claimed that Azerbaijani forces attacked the villages of Hin Shen and Mets Shen. However, this attack was repelled.
All these villages are located in the de-facto encirclement area by Azerbaijani troops and Armenian units located there are ‘volunteer battalions’ and ‘local militias’ that have refused to withdraw from the encirclement following the November 10 agreement. Their shady status became the source of current tensions in the region.
Expectedly, Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of violating the ceasefire regime. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry and the State Security Service declared that Azerbaijani forces have carried out a “forced anti-terrorist operation” in the vicinity of the town of Hadrut. According to Baku, several Armenian units remained in the forest area and “did not leave the territory, but, to the contrary, set up combat positions and carried out several acts of sabotage against the Azerbaijani military and civilians.” These attacks resulted in the killing of four soldiers, and injuring two soldiers and a civilian. The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev promised to crush the Armenians with “an iron fist” in the event of a further escalation.
In its own turn, the Armenian side declared that Azerbaijan just blatantly violated the ceasefire intentionally attacking positions of the Armenian forces. The Armenian Defense Ministry said that 6 Armenian fighters were injured.
The deployment of forces of the Russian peacekeeping mission put an end to the tensions and as of December 14, the Russian military expanded its presence to the south of the Lachin corridor. This move was aimed at preventing further clashes there.
The last days demonstrated that despite the ceasefire regime established in the area the region still remains a de-facto powder keg that can still explode. The Armenian and Azerbaijani sides still have to conduct the demarcation of the state border separating Armenian sovereign territory and the Karabakh districts transferred to Baku. These developments will also likely be accompanied by various provocations and could lead to open clashes.