US, French officials appear to call out Azerbaijan for major border escalation

By Mark Dovich

Senior officials in the United States and France have appeared to call out Azerbaijan for its role in ongoing escalations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, using language largely not seen in statements issued during previous clashes, which for the most part, called on both sides to cease hostilities.

In a phone call Tuesday with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities” and “stressed that the United States would push for an immediate halt to fighting,” the State Department said.

Meanwhile, Blinken told Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan the same day of “our deep concern…including reports of shelling in Armenia” and “assured Prime Minister Pashinyan that the United States would push for an immediate halt to fighting.”

Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, reiterated at a press briefing later that day that Blinken “urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately (and) to disengage military forces,” while insisting that Washington was not “assigning blame” for the outbreak in fighting.

“The fact is that we have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia (and) significant damage to Armenian infrastructure,” he said.

Likewise, French President Emmanuel Macron told Aliyev Tuesday of “the urgency of putting an end to hostilities and returning to respect for the ceasefire,” according to a French read-out, while his foreign minister called on her Azerbaijani counterpart to “end strikes against the territory of Armenia, respect the ceasefire and return to negotiations.”

In contrast, Macron said to Pashinyan the same day he “continues to call for strict respect for the ceasefire and respect for the territorial integrity of Armenia” and pledged to raise the issue of Azerbaijan’s attack at the United Nations.

France too has explicitly noted that fighting is taking place within Armenia proper and acknowledged “reports of strikes against civilian targets” in Armenia.

France and the United States, alongside Russia, co-chair the Minsk Group, a body that has led efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan for many years, largely without result.

So far, Russia appears to have been much more measured in its reactions, with the Russian Foreign Ministry releasing a statement Tuesday “expressing extreme concern over the sharp aggravation of the situation” and “calling on the parties to refrain from further escalating the situation, exercise restraint, and strictly observe the ceasefire regime.”

Similarly, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance of which Armenia is a founding member, said Tuesday it “expressed concern about the aggravation of the situation in the region and called for its settlement exclusively by political and diplomatic means.”

Following a special CSTO session late Tuesday evening convened at Armenia’s request, the alliance announced it would send Stanislav Zas, the alliance’s head, to Armenia to lead a fact-finding mission.

Zas’ mission is meant to “assess the current situation” and “prepare a detailed report,” the Russian TASS news agency reported, adding the alliance also “decided to create a working group to constantly monitor the situation in the CSTO zone of responsibility.”

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