South Caucasus rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday accused each other of opening fire around the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region in a clash that killed a total of seven soldiers.
The two neighbors - both formerly part of the Soviet Union - have fought repeatedly over the last 35 years for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but home to a mainly ethnic Armenian population.
The Azeri defense ministry said three troops had died in a clash close to the contested Lachin Corridor, a key road into Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia that crosses through Azeri territory. The Armenian defense ministry said four of its soldiers had died and another six had been wounded.
Yerevan had earlier accused Azerbaijan of opening fire on Armenian troops performing engineering work near the village of Tegh in Armenia’s southern Syunik province. It said its forces had taken “countermeasures,” without providing details.
Tegh is the last village on the Lachin Corridor in Armenia before it enters Azeri territory.
Baku said its troops came under “intense fire” from Armenian troops stationed in Syunik province.
Russia dispatched a thousands-strong peacekeeping contingent to the region in 2020 as part of a deal to end weeks of fighting that killed thousands and saw Azerbaijan make significant territorial gains.
Moscow is an ally of Armenia through a mutual self-defense pact, but also strives for good relations with Baku. The latest stand-off has been seen as a key test of Moscow’s ongoing influence in the region as it wages its own war in Ukraine.
The latest stand-off is over control of the Lachin Corridor - the only road route linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijanis claiming to be environmental protesters have been blocking the route since the end of last year, resulting in what Armenia calls a humanitarian crisis.
Baku denies those claims, saying essential supplies can get into the territory and has defended the protesters as rallying against legitimate environmental concerns. Yerevan calls them government-backed agitators.