Fighting has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the most violent clashes since the conclusion of their 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Each side placed responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities on the other. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia claims fifty of his country’s troops were killed in overnight clashes with Azeri forces. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry in turn, offered an explanation which accused Armenia of conducting ‘large-scale provocations’ that prompted retaliation. Earlier today, Pashinyan claimed the tempo of hostilities had decreased somewhat, however, Azeri attacks on Armenian positions continue.
The Russian foreign ministry has announced it brokered a ceasefire between the two nations early Tuesday, although this has yet to be independently confirmed. There is a considerable number of Russian peacekeepers to the region and Moscow has made great efforts to be viewed as the arbiter in the Caucuses, a volatile area.
Russia’s engagement in Ukraine and the recent battlefield setbacks it has suffered there might have enticed Azerbaijan and Armenia to act with less caution. This sudden escalation is leading to concern that Russia could find itself engaged in a second war near its border. It is in Moscow’s best interest to prevent a fresh conflict from breaking out now. Especially with Vladimir Putin set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday at the Shanghai Cooperative Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.
A flareup of fighting between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan along their common border appears to have been brought to an end, but not after at least thirty people were killed according to Kyrgyz government officials. Military units from both nations started exchanging fire on Thursday and according to independent sources, civilians on both sides of the border joined in the firefights. By today, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials met to defuse the situation. It seems a temporary ceasefire has been established and the leaders of the two nations have discussed matters over the phone. President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon have agreed to meet later in May.
Territorial claims and access to water were the causes of Thursday’s military engagements. Border disagreements between the two nations are not new, having stemmed from demarcations made during the 1980s at a time when these nations were part of the Soviet Union. The area of the border where Thursday’s clashes occurred is a frequent flashpoint.
This recent round of fighting in Central Asia underscores the volatility which the region has experienced in the last year. The Azeri-Armenian war and continued tension between Georgia and Russia generally grab the media headlines, yet there are a number of other regional issues and rivalries simmering just beneath the surface. The situation between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over the shared Fergana Valley is one of them. The chances of a larger water war in the area cannot be discounted as the importance of water access for these landlocked nation-states becomes a matter of national survival.