International diplomacy has swung into action to defuse the threat of fresh violence in the south Caucasus, after Armenia accused Azerbaijani troops of trying to seize territory.
Armenia's acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke to Russian president Vladimir Putin about an alleged incursion of some 250 Azeri soldiers about 3.5km into the Syunik province of southern Armenia.
Six weeks of war between the neighbours last autumn killed more than 5,000 people before a Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the fighting and cemented Azerbaijan’s battlefield gains, returning most of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region to Baku’s control more than 25 years after it was seized by its ethnic Armenian majority.
Tension remains high between Yerevan and Baku, disputes over territory and border demarcation continue, and the political temperature in Armenia is rising before early parliamentary elections on June 20th.
“The Azerbaijani armed forces carried out another provocation against the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia under the pretext of [border] delimitation, trying to push forward their positions in the directions of Vardenis and Sisian communities,” Armenia’s defence ministry wrote on Twitter on Friday.
“In both cases the advance has been stopped as a result of the activities of the armed forces of Armenia. The Armenian side has presented a demand to the Azerbaijani side to leave the territory immediately.”
French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted: "Azerbaijani armed forces have crossed into Armenian territory. They must withdraw immediately. I say again to the Armenian people: France stands with you in solidarity and will continue to do so."
Acting Armenian defence minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan told Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu that "all areas . . . invaded by the Azerbaijanis, the whole territory, the soldiers and their supply routes, are under the full control of the Armenian army".
The Kremlin said that in conversation with Mr Pashinyan, Mr Putin “emphasised the need to strictly abide by all the provisions” of last November’s deal to end the fighting “primarily with regard to the ceasefire regime”.
Maintain good ties
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted, however, that Mr Pashinyan "did not ask for help" from Russia, which has sought to maintain good ties with both Yerevan and Baku, despite the latter's deepening alliance with Turkey.
Armenia’s acting deputy premier Tigran Avinyan said that if talks with Baku failed, “we must be ready for potential bad developments . . . and we expect the support of our allies in the event of such a bad scenario.”
Azerbaijan denied sending troops into Armenia and said the neighbours must resolve complex border demarcation issues, as its foreign minister Jeyhun Bayramov held talks with senior US and EU diplomats.
“We believe that attempts by official circles to use this issue for political purposes in connection with the pre-election situation in Armenia are unacceptable,” Baku’s foreign ministry said in a statement.