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Azerbaijan launches so-called 'local anti-terrorist measures' in Nagorno-Karabakh

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan launched what it called local anti-terrorist measures in Nagorno-Karabakh. That's the Armenian ethnic enclave within Azerbaijan that's been a source of conflict since the final years of the USSR. As NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow, then, as now, tensions derive in part from waning Russian influence in the region.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Azerbaijan's defense ministry said it launched military operations to reestablish constitutional order in Nagorno-Karabakh after six Azerbaijanis died in landmine explosions the ministry blamed on Armenian separatists. Within hours, the government in Baku said its forces were carrying out precision airstrikes on ethnic Armenian military targets, even as witness video in Nagorno-Karabakh suggested far larger military operations were underway.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIVES CRACKLING)

MAYNES: Sirens rang out over the skies and Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert, and rolling explosions thundered in the distance. In 2020, Azerbaijan, backed by its powerful ally, Turkey, fought a six-week war with Armenian forces that ended with Baku reestablishing control over much of Nagorno-Karabakh. That fighting only came to an end after Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated a cease-fire and dispatched Russian peacekeepers to the region. But 120,000 ethnic Armenians are still there, claiming independence, which analysts say leaves on Beijing's military victory incomplete.

RICHARD GIRAGOSIAN: This is the latest in a escalation of pressure designed to force out the Armenian population from Karabakh.

MAYNES: Richard Giragosian is with the Regional Studies Center in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. He says Baku's military superiority and Russia's preoccupation with Ukraine have provided Azerbaijan with a window of opportunity.

GIRAGOSIAN: Russia remains weak and overwhelmed by its failed invasion of Ukraine, so in many ways, this is as much about Moscow as it is about Yerevan. But think there's a real danger of miscalculation, of Azerbaijan going too far too fast.

MAYNES: In the Armenian capital, crowds throng the city's central square, demanding their government intervene militarily. Armenian anger is also directed at Russia for failing to live up to its traditional security role in the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIA ZAKHAROVA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Meanwhile, back in Moscow, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, appealed for a return to diplomacy and the terms of a ceasefire Russia brokered three years ago. Less clear is whether Azerbaijan or Armenia are likewise ready to wind back the clock. Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "EXPERIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.