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Azerbaijan Says Combat to Continue Until Armenian Forces Leave

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/30/2020 Sara Khojoyan and Zulfugar Agayev

(Bloomberg) -- Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev vowed to continue a military campaign until Armenian forces leave disputed territory, while Armenia appealed for pressure against Turkey’s involvement in the conflict.

As combat raged around the region of Nagorno-Karabakh for a fourth day, Aliyev said Azerbaijan is fighting “on our own soil.” It will stop only when Armenian forces leave Azerbaijani territory, he said Wednesday during a visit to wounded soldiers in the hospital.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Turkey’s role in the hostilities in a phone call Wednesday, the premier’s office said. Armenia’s Defense Ministry stepped up accusations against Turkey of military involvement, accusing Turkish F-16 fighter jets of taking part in operations with Azerbaijani forces over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry rejected the allegations as an attempt by Armenia to gain more foreign support in its fight with Azerbaijan. Claims that Turkish warplanes and drones are in action against Armenia are untrue, it said in a statement. Azerbaijan also denied Turkish involvement.

map: Azerbaijani-Armenian Conflict © Bloomberg Azerbaijani-Armenian Conflict

Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan accused Turkey of direct involvement in the conflict in phone talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, according to a Foreign Ministry statement in Yerevan. Lavrov, who also spoke separately with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, repeated calls for a cease-fire and said Moscow was willing to organize “relevant contacts” between the two sides.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was concerned by reports that “militants of illegal armed groups” from Syria and Libya were being sent to Nagorno-Karabakh and demanded their immediate withdrawal. Armenia has complained that foreign mercenaries are fighting alongside Azerbaijani troops, while Azerbaijan alleges Kurdish militants have joined Armenian forces.

The fighting shows no sign of easing, despite a call from the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday for Armenia and Azerbaijan to “immediately stop fighting, de-escalate tensions and return to meaningful negotiations.” China, the U.S. and the European Union have all weighed in with calls for a truce, to little effect.

Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell discussed the crisis late Wednesday, including the need for “parties to the conflict and other countries to show maximum restraint,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

Borrell said on Twitter he spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about Nagorno-Karabakh and “the importance of de-escalation.”

The deepening conflict in the Caucasus region adds to tensions between Russia and Turkey over proxy conflicts in Syria and Libya. Russia has an army base in Armenia and the two nations have a mutual-defense pact, though it doesn’t cover the disputed territory. Azerbaijan hosted large-scale joint exercises with the Turkish military last month.

Why Stakes Are Raised in the Azeri-Armenian Conflict: QuickTake

Despite decades of U.S., Russian and French mediation to resolve the conflict, fighting has repeatedly broken out since Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts from Azerbaijan in a war after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The violence that erupted Sunday is more intense and widespread than at any time since Russia brokered a 1994 cease-fire to halt the war that killed about 30,000 and displaced more than a million people.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged both sides to halt violence, Moscow has held back so far from any intervention in its former Soviet backyard. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly backed Azerbaijan, saying decades of international negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh had failed.

Turkey’s declarations on the conflict are “dangerous,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Latvia’s capital, Riga, on Wednesday. France “won’t accept any escalatory message” on the crisis, he said.

“We will continue to stand with Azerbaijan,” Erdogan’s communication chief, Fahrettin Altun, said on Twitter.

The region contains important energy and transport projects that connect central Asia to Europe bypassing Russia. They include the U.S.-backed Southern Gas Corridor link and a BP Plc-operated oil pipeline that runs less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the conflict zone and has capacity to export as much as 1.2 million barrels daily from Baku to Turkey’s Ceyhan.

The pipelines haven’t been targeted in previous conflicts but may be vulnerable to any shift in the fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

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