STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—Azerbaijan will likely ratchet up tensions along “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh in the months ahead, the commander of Karabakh’s 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.
Continuing ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh are unlikely to escalate into a full-scale war, a senior official in Stepanakert insisted on Friday.
“Although the war can break out at any moment, its likelihood is low,” said Davit Babayan, the deputy chief of staff of Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president.
“Why? Because Azerbaijan spent 22 years getting ready to start the four-day war of April 2016. And it got ready for a blitzkrieg,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Only one year has passed [since the April 2016 war.] Given so many [Azerbaijani] casualties and the clear position of the international community, I don’t think that another war is possible now,” added Babayan.
The four-day hostilities mentioned by the Karabakh Armenian official marked the worst fighting in the conflict since a Russian-mediated truce stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war for the disputed territory in 1994. They left at least 190 soldiers from both warring sides dead.
In a report published on Thursday, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank, warned of a serious risk of renewed heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. “A year after Nagorno-Karabakh’s April 2016 violent flare-up, Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer to war than at any point since the 1994 ceasefire,” it said, calling for more vigorous international efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Babayan dismissed this conclusion, arguing that the ICG did not predict the April 2016 hostilities. “It does not reflect the reality,” he said of the report.