Russia Hints at Intervention in Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
Several days after apparent widespread skirmishes all along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the Nagorno-Karabakh "line of contact," there is still very little information about what actually happened. For a while, though, at least on the internet, it seemed that a serious escalation of violence was imminent.
It's a bit odd that, amid all the rumors of massive fighting, there doesn't seem to have been any casualties on either side, suggesting that the reports may have been some sort of deliberate disinformation campaign. And that's what the Armenian Defense Ministry has suggested:
The rumors spread by Azerbaijani mass media on the possible combat operations on NKR–Azerbaijan line of contact towards Aghdam and Fizulai are nothing but imagination.
In comparison to June 7-8, the ceasefire violations in different parts of the front line have become more frequent and have increased. This, however, did not affect and will not affect the general state.
All the usual suspects issued the usual statements calling on both sides to settle the conflict peacefully, etc. But one international reaction was especially notable: Russia's. A Russian military spokesman noted that airmen at the Russian military base in Armenia have been stepping up their training flights since the beginning of the year. From the New York Times:
Russian fighter jets stationed at a base in Armenia have conducted about 300 training flights since the beginning of 2012, and have increased the number of flying hours by more than 20 percent from last year...
Colonel Gorbul said Russian fighter pilots were preparing for combat. “The main emphasis in performing aerobatic elements is made on the ability to apply them in real-life air combat conditions,” he said.
Since the increase in flights began at the beginning of the year, it doesn't seem like it's in reaction to the flareup in violence. But the statement does seem like a reaction to the flareup. Russia is of course a crucial factor in any potential conflict over Karabakh: while Azerbaijan is on the way to gaining military superiority over Armenia, if Russia intervened on Armenia's side it would be a whole different story. (And whether they do may depend on whether the conflict is limited to Karabakh itself, or if it spreads to Armenia, as these recent skirmishes have.) It's of course easy for Russia to drop a hint like this that it might get involved than to actually get involved if push came to shove, but you can guess that this statement is being closely analyzed in Baku.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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