Armenia Asks Russia to Help as 105 Killed in Azerbaijan Fighting

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(Bloomberg) -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan formally invoked a defense pact calling on Russia and other allies to send military assistance after saying that 105 of his country’s troops had died in two days of border clashes with Azerbaijan.

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Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of seizing Armenian territory and told parliament Wednesday he was asking for help from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization under Article 4 of its defense pact providing for military assistance.

“The sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia is a red line for us,” he said, adding that he may introduce martial law if the situation deteriorates further.

Armenia and Azerbaijan blame each other for starting the fighting that erupted in the early hours of Tuesday. The clashes have spiraled into the worst confrontation since a 44-day war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 that killed thousands of soldiers on both sides until Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a truce. Azerbaijan reported Tuesday that 50 of its soldiers had died.

The conflict has erupted with Russia distracted by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, where his forces are in retreat under pressure from a Ukrainian counteroffensive. While Azerbaijan and Armenia have held talks to try to delineate their common border and open up transport routes as part of the truce, they have yet to reach a final peace agreement.

Azerbaijani troops seized 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of territory from Armenians along the non-delineated border on Tuesday, the pro-government Caliber news service in Baku reported. Pashinyan said Azerbaijani forces had taken 10 square km of Armenian land in addition to 40 square km they had occupied in May.

A CSTO fact-finding mission is expected to arrive in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, on Thursday after Pashinyan held an emergency videoconference on the crisis with Putin and leaders and officials from other member states, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

So far, though, neither Russia nor the CSTO have indicated they’re willing to send forces to bolster Armenia’s defenses. When Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for CSTO assistance to put down violent protests in January, Putin immediately ordered troops to lead a peacekeeping operation.

Russia has a military base in Armenia and sent 2,000 peacekeeping troops to Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the truce that halted the 2020 war.

France intends to raise the crisis at the United Nations Security Council, where it’s the current president, the Elysee Palace said in a statement. French President Emmanuel Macron told Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev there’s an urgent need to end hostilities and respect the cease-fire in a phone call late Tuesday, according to the Elysee.

Aliyev replied that Azerbaijan is responding to Armenian provocations, according to a statement on his presidential website. He also held phone talks Tuesday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which has a defense pact with Azerbaijan and helped Aliyev’s army to win the 2020 war.

The US State Department pointed the finger at Azerbaijan for attacks on Armenian territory as it urged Russia to use its influence with both states to halt the fighting. “We have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia and significant damage to Armenian infrastructure,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday at a briefing in Washington.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced early Tuesday that it had negotiated a cease-fire. But the deadline to halt hostilities was ignored.

The European Union has also called for a truce and for both sides to return to negotiations. The EU in July signed a deal to double imports of natural gas from Azerbaijan as it seeks to break Putin’s grip on the bloc’s energy supplies amid the confrontation over Ukraine.

“With Moscow tied up in another conflict, the EU is perhaps best placed to mediate a ceasefire,” said Ophelia Coutts, Russia and former Soviet Union analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft. “Although Brussels’ recent deal to import more gas from Azerbaijan potentially undermines its bid to position itself as an honest peace broker.”

Azerbaijan took control of part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is mostly populated by Armenians but internationally recognized as part of its territory, in the 2020 conflict and regained seven surrounding districts that Armenian troops had occupied since the early 1990s.

Aliyev has demanded the establishment of a corridor through southern Armenia to an Azerbaijani exclave bordering Turkey. That’s been rejected by Pashinyan, who’s said the truce brokered by Putin only provides for the opening of transport links between the two states, which he’s prepared to carry out.

The Armenian premier told lawmakers Wednesday he had presented new proposals to Aliyev on opening up transport routes between their countries. “The moment they accept it, we are ready to implement it,” he said.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of Iraq to Iran in the graphic)

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