SITUATION UPDATE BRIEF: ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN: INTENSIFYING FIGHT OVER NAGORNO-KARABAKH RISKS REGIONAL ESCALATION

Overview

On 27 September, heavy fighting broke out in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. The ongoing fighting, which has entered its fifth day, marks the most significant escalation in the conflict since the 1994 ceasefire ended the six-year Nagorno-Karabakh War, bringing the
two sides the closest to full-blown war in over 25 years. Despite widespread international calls for a ceasefire, including from Russia, both sides show no sign of ceasing military operations along the so-called Line of Contact, with increasingly provocative Turkish rhetoric and interventions threatening a broader escalation
across the region.

Situational Report

This week’s flare up marks the most concerted effort to change the status quo since the 1994 ceasefire, which effectively froze the conflict after Armenia took Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories from Azerbaijan. While the situation on the ground remains highly volatile, the threat of a broader escalation remains particularly high as Azerbaijan’s principal ally Turkey seeks increasingly blatant involvement, with the Azerbaijani offensive showing no signs of ceasing, nor Armenian efforts to defend their positions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that attempts at a diplomatic solution to the NagornoKarabakh crisis have failed, calling on Armenia to withdraw from the region and backing Azerbaijan in its bid to retake the region by force. On 29 September, Armenia claimed a Turkish F-16 shot down one of its SU-25 jets, accusations both Ankara and Baku deny. Together with reports that pro-Turkish fighters are travelling to the frontline from Syria, this marks a major escalation that threatens to undermine calls for mediation. Crucially, Turkey’s heavy-handed intervention in the frozen conflict is a clear challenge to Russia’s regional hegemony at a time of particularly strained relations between the two, fighting as they are on opposing sides in both Syria and Libya. However, sustained Turkish aggression on Russia’s border and against Russia’s ally Armenia greatly increases the likelihood of an armed Russian response under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) mutual defence agreement with Armenia.

Scenarios

SCENARIO 1: Azerbaijani offensive continues along the Line of
Contact, as localised clashes escalate and spread: 60%

•Azerbaijani forces continue attacking strategic points along the Line of Contact, pushing deeper into Nagorno-Karabakh and/or the occupied territories, with fighting limited to Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

• Given that both sides have refused to consider international mediation this week, this scenario currently appears to be the most likely in the short-term over the next couple of weeks…

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