Azerbaijan’s Military Offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh: A Risk Assessment

Russian military presence near Stepanaker, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh
Russian military presence near Stepanaker, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh (Credits: Vmakenas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Kavkaz Files ISSN 2975-0474 Volume Issue 18 Issue 6
Authors: Giuliano Bifolchi & Silvia Boltuc

The recent military operation conducted by Azerbaijan against the defence forces in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh attests to the prevailing instability within the South Caucasus region. This development has sounded alarm bells amongst both international and regional stakeholders, who are now confronted with the prospect of a renewed conflict in this highly sensitive geopolitical theatre.

The implications of this military action extend beyond the immediate actors involved, with potential repercussions for the broader regional security landscape. A careful and considered approach to the developing situation is imperative for those vested in the stability and security of the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan’s military operations against Nagorno-Karabakh:
Background Information

On September 19th, 2023, Azerbaijan began ‘local anti-terrorist measures’ in Nagorno-Karabakh to restore the constitutional order. The Defence Ministry of the Republic of Azerbaijan reported on its official website that Baku’s military forces used ‘high-precision weapons’ against the positions of the Armenian army and its military facilities.

Azerbaijan Defence Ministry justified this military operation by accusing Armenia of systematic shelling the positions of the Azerbaijan forces, mining the Azerbaijani territories, working on engineering improvements to combat positions, as well as an increase in the number of trenches and dugouts in recent months.

Sergey Ghazaryan, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, commented recent Azerbaijani military operations highlighting that recently Baku has conducting daily troop transfers and stockpiling of various weapons, which were accompanied by intensive information and propaganda activities, preparing the ground for large-scale aggression against Artsakh.

The Artsakh government constantly warned all actors in 2020 about the indisputable fact of Azerbaijan’s unprecedented accumulation of military power after the war and possible provocations, including hoping to prevent large-scale military actions.

Ghazaryan accentuated that over the past 24 hours, the Azerbaijani side has spread misinformation that the Artsakh side allegedly carried out sabotage operations and fired at Azerbaijani positions.

On his Telegram Channel, Ruben Vardanyan, former state minister of the Republic of Artsakh, recorded a video and stated that “Azerbaijan started a war to exterminate the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh”. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the are no Yerevan’s soldiers in the Nagorno-Karabakh.

We should remind that, after months of Azerbaijan blockade of the Lachin corridor, yesterday, on September 18th, 2023, the International Committee of the Red Cross transported 28 tons of humanitarian aid, comprising wheat flour, medical supplies and hygiene items, to Artsakh through the Lachin Corridor and the Akna (Agdam) – Stepanakert Road.

This humanitarian mission has resulted from extensive talks involving the International Committee of the Red Cross, the command of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Artsakh and international mediators, and was undertaken in response to the extremely critical humanitarian situation brought about by the complete blockade imposed by Azerbaijan.

 Geopolitical Scenario

On December 12th, 2022, Azerbaijan’s environmental activists took a drastic step by obstructing the Goris-Stepanakert highway, effectively isolating the Republic of Artsakh and its 120,000 inhabitants from the external world.

The following day, Azerbaijani authorities ceased the supply of gas to the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh. Stepanakert’s authorities perceive these actions as a blatant contravention of the commitments outlined in the trilateral statement of November 9th, 2020.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Government has levelled accusations against Azerbaijan, alleging a State-orchestrated humanitarian crisis and characterising it as a terrorist act against local civilians. The blockade has resulted in a dire shortage of essential provisions, including food, medicine, and energy supplies for the populace, heightening the already pressing humanitarian predicament.

Recent reports have showed that Azerbaijan has deployed military assets near the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite Baku’s public stance professing a desire to avoid further conflict in the region, the initiation of a so-called ‘counter-terrorism operation’ by Azerbaijani forces underscores a calculated and premeditated approach to this military campaign.

Azerbaijan’s imposition of a blockade presents a direct challenge to the foreign policy objectives of the Russian Federation in the South Caucasus. Despite the signing of a declaration on allied cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan on February 22nd, 2022, Moscow cannot remain indifferent to Azerbaijani actions within the region.

Following Azerbaijan’s military aggression towards Armenia in September 2022, Yerevan has repeatedly voiced discontent with Russia’s perceived hands-off approach and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) apparent inability to counter an external assault against one of its member states.

Therefore, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently articulated his belief that Armenia’s exclusive reliance on Russia for security matters was a “strategic mistake.” He highlighted that the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the autumn of 2020 do not exercise control over the Lachin Corridor, which should facilitate the connection between Armenia and the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh.

On Monday, September 11th, 2023, Armenia and the United States embarked on a collaborative military training exercise, a significant undertaking considering the heightened tensions characterising Armenia’s relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Called ‘Eagle Partner,’ this 10-day exercise sees the participation of 85 US and 175 Armenian soldiers. Its primary aim is to equip the Armenian contingent with the skills and expertise required for their involvement in international peacekeeping missions.


Baku’s recent counter-terrorism operation against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh serves as a stark reminder of the fragile state of affairs in the region. Despite concerted efforts by Washington and Brussels to assume a more active role in mediating the local situation, seeking to diminish Russia’s dominant influence in the Caucasus, the Azerbaijani military manoeuvres underscore the limited sway held by the EU and US over Ilham Aliyev’s decisions.

A flurry of accusations and counter-allegations regarding the breach of agreements and territorial boundaries inevitably followed each instance of military confrontation between the involved parties. While concrete evidence and reliable sources remain elusive, a discernible pattern emerges, with Baku increasingly resorting to military force as a recurring strategy in the region.

The critical question now lies in whether the European Union and the United States will take decisive action against Azerbaijan to deter the normalisation of such a modus operandi, or if geopolitical considerations, such as Baku’s pivotal role in the EU Security Energy Strategy and US regional interests in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, will prompt Brussels and Washington to maintain their current stance.

In the event that the European Union or the United States demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to effectively address the Azerbaijani threat to the lives of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, a pressing question arises regarding the course of action Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will pursue to support Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh.

Despite his recent criticisms of Moscow’s strategy and role in the South Caucasus, the prospect of turning to the Russian Federation for support seems possible. In this critical juncture, Moscow faces a pivotal decision: whether to intercede promptly to restore stability in the region, or to bide its time, seeking opportunities to secure a strategic advantage and exert pressure on Pashinyan’s government, a regime the Kremlin has long regarded with suspicion.

The prevailing circumstances in Nagorno-Karabakh have instilled a palpable sense of disillusionment among the populace of Armenia. This sentiment found expression in a gathering before the hallowed halls of the Parliament, where concerned citizens sought both clarity and resolute action from the capital city of Yerevan, beseeching unequivocal support for Artsakh.

Concurrently, this assembly served as a platform for the vocalised critique of the incumbent Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan. Central to the discourse is the pivotal query of whether Pashinyan possesses the requisite acumen to navigate this intricate confluence of geopolitical exigencies and internal dissent, thereby averting the imminent specter of a political crisis. This critical juncture is compounded by the residue of a resounding setback endured during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 2020, which underscores the pressing imperative for judicious statecraft and resolute leadership.

The choices made by all parties involved will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the complex geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus.

The humanitarian crisis resulting from Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin corridor, coupled with the ongoing military operation, casts a long shadow over the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh and exacerbates the plight of a local population already enduring dire conditions for months. It prompts the pertinent question of whether Baku’s approach could be characterised as an alarming step towards what some analysts have described as an ‘attempted genocide’.

Considering recent Azerbaijani military actions and the subsequent statements emanating from both Armenia and Azerbaijan, the geopolitical risk level in the region has surged to a concerning high. The spectre of a potential future conflict looms large over the South Caucasus, instigating an atmosphere of mistrust that extends to foreign investors keen on exploring local markets and logistical infrastructures. These vital economic assets could, in the event of hostilities, find themselves at the forefront of military targets, further complicating an already precarious situation.

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