Azerbaijan has barred the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from using the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and the outside world.
The State Border Service made the announcement on July 11 citing "repeated attempts to smuggle various types of contraband" on Red Cross trucks coming from the Armenian side through the Lachin corridor. These items reportedly included cigarettes, telephones, and gasoline.
The agency said it had opened a criminal case over the matter and denied the Red Cross access to the road "until necessary investigative measures have been completed."
The ICRC acknowledged that four of its hired drivers had transported commercial goods through the corridor. It said the drivers, who were not staff, had their service contracts terminated immediately and urged Baku to let it resume its "strictly humanitarian" work.
Azerbaijan shut down its border checkpoint on the road to all traffic on June 15 following an armed clash in the area. Ten days later Baku granted the ICRC exclusive access to the road, primarily for patient transfers but also for provision of some basic supplies.
Nagorno-Karabakh's human rights ombudsman, Gegham Stepanyan, said the situation in the Armenian-populated region, which has been under total or near-total blockade for seven months, is getting "critical."
"The Russian peacekeepers transport cargo for their maintenance by helicopters, while the entire population of Artsakh is under the threat of starvation, and the international actors do not take any steps other than statements," wrote Stepanyan.
"I demand from the International Committee of the Red Cross to light the red alarm button of the danger of genocide. You can do it. My people are betrayed by everyone's criminal indifference."
Both the EU and U.S. have urged Azerbaijan to reopen the road, and not just to the Red Cross.
"The EU strongly supports the crucial role of the ICRC in the region, and reiterates its call for Azerbaijan to ensure the unrestricted movement of people and goods via the Lachin corridor," tweeted the spokesperson for the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In a July 12 phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken "underscored the need for free transit of commercial, humanitarian, and private vehicles through the Lachin corridor."
As supplies dwindle further and the region is increasingly dependent on its own resources, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities are making cutbacks wherever they can.
A government decree set restrictions on public food services from July 5. Wedding feasts can be held for no more than 50 people while the limit is 30 for funerals.
Local officials also limited the amount of humanitarian aid to be distributed "due to limited volume of state reserves." Now only families with children receive free sugar and cooking oil, in the amount of 0.5 kilograms per child.
The local dairy processing plant suspended work as raw products from Armenia are no longer making into Karabakh. The region is now fully dependent on its own farmers for dairy, and fruits and vegetables. But even these are hard to transport internally given the acute shortage of gasoline.
The supply of natural gas from Armenia has been obstructed by Azerbaijan since March 22. It was, inexplicably, restored on July 9 to be shut off again the next day.
Electricity shortages remain acute as the reservoir feeding the local hydropower plant remains at critically low levels. Residents currently experience daily 6-hour blackouts.
Lilit Shahverdyan is a journalist based in Stepanakert.