Armenia, Azerbaijan tensions rise over blocked road

STORY: A group of Azerbaijanis claiming to be environmental activists blocked the Lachin corridor, the only land route for people, goods, food, and medical supplies to reach Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia across Azerbaijani territory, at the start of this week.

Reuters video showed a crowd of people, many carrying Azerbaijani flags, blocking the road in a peaceful standoff with Russian troops from a 5,000-strong mission deployed to the region after the last round of war in 2020.

The two countries have fought repeated wars over Nagorno-Karabakh - internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but home to about 120,000 ethnic Armenians - since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. As recently as September, more than 200 soldiers were killed in a flare-up of fighting.

Armenia says the protesters have been dispatched by the Azerbaijani government in an attempt to block Armenia's access to the region. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said it was the Russian peacekeeping force that closed the route. It said the activists were involved in a genuine protest over illegal Armenian mining in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The standoff is a test of Russia's authority as the main security guarantor in the region at a time when its struggles in the war in Ukraine risk undermining its top-dog status among former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.