Two years after the second war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan are awkwardly close to starting a third, according to a new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG).
"Over the course of 2022, even as mediators sought a comprehensive peace deal, three major bouts of fighting – the most recent in September – demonstrated the situation’s volatility. While the future of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave remains at the core of the neighbours’ conflict, September’s fighting, which took place along the countries’ border and inside Armenia, expanded the battlefield," the International Crisis Group report said.
Because Azerbaijan has a large military advantage and Russia is distracted by the war in Ukraine, there is little to stop Baku from using its advantage on this new front if it becomes impatient to negotiate. This could plunge the two countries back into war with significant loss of life and to the detriment of the entire South Caucasus, the organization's report notes.
"The European Union’s (EU) new civilian monitoring mission to Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan is a bold and encouraging step to help mitigate the risks. The mission must be given the means and mandate to succeed," the ICG believes.
"Since the end of the Cold War, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a bitter conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was part of Azerbaijan in Soviet times and is home to a majority ethnic Armenian population. Armenian troops took control of the enclave and seven adjoining regions by force in the early 1990s, and for nearly 30 years it has been ruled by de facto authorities seated in the city of Stepanakert. But in 2020, a six-week war, which killed more than 7,000 troops, saw Azerbaijan regain control of about one third of the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and most of seven adjacent territories, while also demonstrating its superior military capabilities. Russia brokered a ceasefire agreement to end the war and also took steps to keep the peace. It inserted peacekeepers to constrain resurgent fighting in and around the enclave, and border guards on the Armenian side to keep the parties from fighting along the frontier. But the results have been uneven at best, as Baku has tested its newfound strength both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield," the report said.