Armenia has requested urgent talks with Russia over security assistance in response to intensified fighting with Azerbaijan over control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s request at the weekend to Russian president Vladimir Putin is the first time Armenia has formally asked for help under the terms of a 1997 mutual defence and security assistance pact between the two countries, and comes as Azerbaijani troops threaten a critical Armenian-controlled town after making significant territorial gains.
The war, which has killed more than 5,000 people since erupting five weeks ago, risks a wider regional conflagration, given Russia’s defence pact with Armenia and Azerbaijan’s strong backing from Turkey.
The mutual assistance treaty covers attacks on Armenia’s sovereign territory but does not include Nagorno-Karabakh or the other occupied regions of Azerbaijan.
Moscow has sought to remain neutral during the conflict, while consistently stressing its strong ties with Azerbaijan. Russia is resistant to intervention given its divided loyalties and the risks of a broader clash, but is also wary of Ankara’s desire to expand its clout in the Caucasus.
Azerbaijan has vowed to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region inside the country but populated by ethnic Armenians, and seven districts surrounding it — all of which have been controlled by a Yerevan-backed administration since a previous war between the countries ended in 1994.
On Sunday, Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, told Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Mr Pashinyan’s letter was an “acknowledgment of defeat” because Russia had “no basis” to come to Armenia’s aid so long as the fighting remained confined to Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied Azeri territories surrounding it.
“We want the issue of the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from other occupied territories to be resolved at the negotiating table as soon as possible,” Mr Aliyev said. “Otherwise, we will continue to restore our territorial integrity by any means and, as I said, we will go to the end.”
Baku has captured more than 1,500 sq km of territory south of Nagorno-Karabakh and on Thursday Armenian officials warned that Azerbaijani troops were about 5km from Shusha, a critical town on the road linking the capital of the region with Armenia.
Ankara’s support has been crucial to Azerbaijan’s battlefield successes, where Armenia’s Soviet-era air defence systems have proved no match for high-tech Azerbaijani drones bought from Turkey and Israel.
Mr Cavutoglu told Mr Aliyev: “We’re proud of your victories on the battlefield. With God’s help, you’ll get your lands back by this successful operation.”
Mr Pashinyan wrote to Mr Putin on Saturday, Armenia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, detailing “the Azerbaijani-Turkish military aggression and the challenges it has caused”.
“Taking into account the facts of the approaching of hostilities to the border of Armenia and the encroachments on the territory of Armenia, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia addressed the President of the Russian Federation to launch immediate consultations to define the type and the scale of assistance which the Russian Federation can provide to the Republic of Armenia for ensuring its security,” the statement said.
In response, Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs released a statement that did not confirm talks would begin but stated: “In accordance with the treaty, Russia will provide Yerevan with all the necessary assistance if the clashes are transferred directly to the territory of Armenia.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan on Friday pledged to cease shelling of residential areas following talks between their foreign ministers in Geneva. The agreement comes after three arranged ceasefires collapsed amid mutual accusations of shelling.
On Sunday, however, the separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh claimed Azerbaijan had used aerial bombardments and missile strikes on the town of Martuni overnight and throughout the morning.
Azerbaijan claimed Armenia shelled army positions in the towns of Tovuz, Gadabay, and Qubadli, as well as settlements in Terter and Aghjabedi.