The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of initiating a border clash on the two countries’ disputed frontier, a development that could complicate their ongoing peace negotiations in Washington D.C., overseen by the United States.
Hours before a meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, border guards stationed at the boundary between the two nations exchanged gunfire. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan released separate statements in the aftermath of the shooting blaming the other side for starting it, although Armenia stated that it had not taken any casualties and Azerbaijan did not report any.
Last week, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, the respective heads of government of the two nations, met in Moscow for talks hosted by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia is adjacent to the Caucasus and controlled both Armenia and Azerbaijan as Soviet constituent republics until 1991, and has largely been responsible for previous peace efforts between the two hostile neighbors. Russia helped to negotiate the ceasefire ending the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War from September until November 2020, and Russian peacekeeping troops have been stationed in the Lachin Corridor connecting Armenia and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region since 2020 under the terms of the agreement. On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged both sides to “refrain from the actions and steps that could lead to an escalation of tensions.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan have remained constantly hostile since their independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and they have never settled the ownership of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is predominantly ethnically Armenian but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. From the late 1980s until 1994, the two sides fought a war over the region, leading to tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. Although Armenia won that conflict, Azerbaijan recaptured much of the disputed region during the second war in 2020. While the border has largely remained peaceful since the Russian-mediated ceasefire, periodic clashes have erupted, most recently in September when roughly 300 soldiers were killed in a border shootout between the two sides.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and accompanying imposition of sanctions on the Kremlin has led Moscow to scale back its involvement in regional mediation efforts and the United States has played a greater role in the mediation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.