Armenia said on Friday that Azerbaijan had refused to fully withdraw troops who had crossed the border in a contested incident, and that it had requested military assistance from Russia.
The border incident this week, six months after the worst combat in decades between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces, has shown the frailty of a Russian-brokered truce that stopped the violence.
Azerbaijan has been suspected by Armenia of sending forces over the border. Azerbaijan has disputed this, claiming that its troops were simply defending their side of the border.
“Yesterday an agreement was reached that today Azerbaijan’s armed forces should leave Armenian territory,” Interfax news agency quoted Armenia’s caretaker prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, as saying at a meeting about the border.
“This agreement has been partially fulfilled; there are territories that the Azerbaijanis did indeed leave. But, since the agreement was not fulfilled completely, today I have approached the president of Russia…for military assistance.”
According to Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, the leadership of its border guards consulted with the Armenian side on Friday to discuss border tensions. It provided few additional information. Although such a meeting would not be unusual – border guards on both sides met only last week – it would be an indication that contact channels remain available.
Armenia’s Pashinyan called Russian President Vladimir Putin late on Thursday. In a statement about the phone call, the Kremlin said Putin had told Pashinyan that the ceasefire agreement should be strictly upheld, and that Pashinyan had in turn backed “solving all problems that arise through peaceful, political and diplomatic means”.
“Of course, the Armenian side expressed extreme concern over the situation at the border. This concern was shared by President Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Washington expected Azerbaijan to immediately pull back its forces and “cease further provocation.”
“Military movements in disputed territories are irresponsible and they’re also unnecessarily provocative,” Porter said on a call with reporters, adding that border demarcation issues should be resolved through negotiation and discussion.
Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenians out of swaths of land they had occupied since the 1990s in and around Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region last year. In Azerbaijan, it was hailed as a success, while in Armenia, it was regarded as a disaster. After a standoff with his troops, Pashinyan resigned, but remained in power as a caretaker until elections next month.
Last year, Russia sent peacekeepers to the region to help maintain the truce, and it also has a military base in Armenia. It has close links with Armenia and a mutual defence treaty, but it also has good relations with Azerbaijan.