Azerbaijan will likely ratchet up tensions along “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh in the months ahead, the commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed over the weekend.
“Azerbaijan will certainly do everything keep up tensions on the frontline,” Lieutenant General Levon Mnatsakanian told reporters in Stepanakert. “It will increasingly seek to inflict damage on us, while we will do everything to respond accordingly and, if need be, if we find it expedient, deal a final blow.”
Mnatsakanian said that in the past several months truce violations around Karabakh have been much less serious than they were last year, which saw heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in April known as “the four-day war.”
Over the past year the Karabakh Armenian army has reinforced its frontline positions with new defense fortifications, more weapons as well as special equipment such as night-vision surveillance devices. The latter helped it fight back in late February two Azerbaijani commando raids that left at least five Azerbaijani soldiers dead.
In Mnatsakanian’s words, Azerbaijani special forces have not attempted more such incursions since then. “As regards gunshots fired from various weapons, they have decreased sharply since 2016,” added the general.
Truce violations on the Karabakh frontlines have periodically intensified this year. In the most recent escalation, Azerbaijani forces fired guided missiles at an air-defense system of Karabakh’s Defense Army on May 16. The latter retaliated with mortar fire targeting Azerbaijani military facilities.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group condemned the “significant violations of the ceasefire.” In a May 18 statement, they urged the parties to “take all necessary measures to prevent any further escalation in the conflict zone.”
A senior official in Stepanakert insisted on Friday that continuing armed incidents are unlikely to escalate into a full-scale war.