The Armenian military has warned Azerbaijan against heightening tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone during large-scale exercises which the Azerbaijani army will hold next week.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry announced earlier this week that the five-day exercises will involve around 10,000 soldiers, hundreds of tanks and artillery systems, and dozens of warplanes and helicopters. It held similar drills in March.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Armenian Defense Ministry condemned the upcoming war games, saying that they pose a threat to the “regional security environment.” It accused Baku of ignoring United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s recent call for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are calling on the Azerbaijani side to show restraint and honor its obligations to the international community,” read the statement.
“At the same time we notify that any attempt to move military hardware and personnel close to the Armenian border or the Line of Contact with Nagorno-Karabakh would be viewed as a provocation and have appropriate consequences,” it warned.
Truce violations in the conflict zone have decreased significantly since Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met for the first time in September 2018. The two leaders and their foreign ministers have held regular talks since then.
Still, there have been signs of increased tension on the frontlines in recent weeks. Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed to have shot down an Azerbaijani military drone on April 21 and said a week later that Azerbaijani forces have fired mortars on its frontline positions for the first time in almost a year.
Meeting with the Azerbaijani army top brass on May 2, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said the likelihood of hostilities has increased dramatically because of what he called Armenian “provocative actions.” Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian denounced that statement.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan reported on Wednesday that Azerbaijani troops fired from heavy machine guns at a border village in Armenia’s northern Tavush province. It released photographs of bullet holes and other damage caused to one of the village houses.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the Minsk Group renewed their calls for the conflicting parties to “strictly” observe the ceasefire and “avoid provocative actions in the current environment” when they held a joint video conference with Mnatsakanian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on April 21.
Speaking on May 12, Mammadyarov accused Yerevan of hampering progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “Azerbaijan is committed to a political settlement of the conflict but negotiations cannot continue endlessly,” he warned.
Mnatsakanian rejected Azerbaijani “threats of use of force” and insisted that the Armenian side is prepared to negotiate a peace deal based on “mutual concessions.”