President Ilham Aliyev has revealed a previously unknown episode of the Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, during which Yerevan planned to sacrifice Russian soldiers deployed in Armenia to drag Moscow into the war.
Armenia was planning this scenario on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border in October 2020, when the Azerbaijani military was advancing toward the then-occupied Zangilan district of Azerbaijan.
“We received information that the Armenian side requested that Russia send a part of the contingent of the Russian military base in Gyumri there, to the border, to Zangilan,” the president told reporters on Wednesday.
“They wanted to justify this by claiming that Azerbaijan intends to seize the Mehri part of Armenia’s territory. We had no such intentions. However, a very limited contingent of the Russian base in Gyumri was sent there,” he added.
According to President Aliyev, immediately after this, the Armenian armed forces began firing on Azerbaijani troops from behind Russian servicemen using mortars and causing casualties among Azerbaijani military.
“Of course, we responded and they immediately appealed to Russia claiming that Azerbaijan was allegedly firing on Russian servicemen. Can you imagine such ignominy? By the way, the Russian side, in subsequent contacts with us, accepted this incident the way I have described it. This is nothing but ignominy. In other words, they wanted us to harm the Russian servicemen by firing back at Armenian positions, so that they could achieve their goals and involve Russia in this war,” the head of the country said.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan began with Yerevan’s illegal claims for Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized and historical lands. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a full-fledged military campaign against Azerbaijan. The hostilities, known as the First Karabakh War, lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994. Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories, namely the Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million others were expelled from their lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia.
On September 27, 2020, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict took a violent turn when Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
Russia’s 102nd military base is stationed in the town of Gyumri in Armenia under the 1995 inter-state treaty. According to 2021 data, about 5,000 Russian servicemen have been serving at the base. The amendments made to the treaty in 2010 extended the military base’s initial 25-year term to 49 years until 2044.
The task of the Russian military base in Armenia is to cover the southern flank of Russia and ensure the protection of Armenia under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) charter. Both Russia and Armenia, as well as four other post-Soviet countries, are members of the CSTO, a military alliance operating under a similar premise to that of NATO: an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all others, and each state is obliged to support other members.
Armenia has repeatedly attempted to use the presence of the Russian base in its favor and involve Russia’s military personnel during the latest war with Azerbaijan.
“In recent days, Russia could play its role of Armenia’s strategic ally … at the highest level. I am sure it will keep playing this role unambiguously and undoubtedly, in the best traditions of friendship of the Armenian and Russian people,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in televised remarks on October 14, 2020.
Retired Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhisnky, the former chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s international cooperation department, excluded the Russian military’s involvement referring to Azerbaijan’s importance as a strategic ally for Russia and the lack of reasonable motives for involving the Russian troops in the conflict. Buzhinskiy has then said Azerbaijan tried to avoid hitting Armenian territory, so “there was no reason for the Russian military intervention.”
Officials in Moscow also explained why Russia hadn’t provided military assistance to Armenia under the CSTO charter during the Second Karabakh War. Back then, Spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitriy Peskov, said that the commitments of CSTO did not apply to the Karabakh region, which is Azerbaijani territory.
In 2021, Armenia again tried to drag Russia into the tensions with Azerbaijan. Yerevan claimed that the Azerbaijani military had allegedly violated Armenia’s border and entered the territory of the country. Azerbaijani authorities have refuted Armenia’s claims and announced that the military forces of the country were taking necessary measures to protect the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.
In an interview with journalists in July 2021, CSTO Head Stanislav Zas stressed that the potential of the military bloc could be activated only in case of aggression or an attack on the member countries.
“Here we are dealing, in fact, with a border incident. [...] This is a border incident, it needs to be resolved, and we are in favor of resolving it peacefully,” Zas said.