Azerbaijan has set up a checkpoint on the only road linking the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The move to control traffic on the road through Azerbaijani territory has been condemned by the unrecognised breakaway statelet, which has accused Azerbaijan of trying to further isolate Karabakh Armenians.
Azerbaijan's State Border Service cited "continuing military supplies from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh" as the excuse for the checkpoint, a claim repeatedly denied by Yerevan and Stepanakert.
The Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have accused Baku of violating the terms of the Moscow-brokered 2020 ceasefire agreement, which stipulated that the road passing through a five-kilometre-wide area known as the Lachin corridor should be under the control of Russian peacekeepers. The road has been blocked since December 12 by Azerbaijani protesters claiming to be environmental activists.
Nagorno-Karabakh's Security Council called on the Trilateral Statement parties, especially Russia, to discuss lifting the blockade of Armenian-controlled Karabakh, preventing the Azerbaijani checkpoint installation, and providing real security guarantees for the Armenian population. The council said that it "expects swift action to address security and humanitarian concerns, and if left unaddressed, the people and authorities of Artsakh may consider drastic measures, including evacuating the population from their besieged homeland".
The Armenian side has accused Azerbaijan of seeking to strengthen the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and of ethnic cleansing by closing the bridge over the Hakari river. The Hakari bridge is an essential part of the Lachin corridor's new planned route. Armenia was supposed to build the route as an alternative one to the existing corridor and it was meant to be under the control of the Russian peacekeeping force.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement calling on Russia to remove all Azerbaijani troops from the roadway. "We call on the Russian Federation to finally fulfil the obligation under provision 6 of the trilateral statement by eliminating the illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor and ensuring the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from the entire security zone of the corridor, and we call on the member states of the UN, having a mandate for the preservation of international security, to clearly record Azerbaijan's actions undermining the regional security and take effective steps towards the unconditional implementation of the decision of the ICJ, the highest international legal body."
Azerbaijan's move follows a report by its Ministry of Defence claiming that three Azerbaijani servicemen were injured when their vehicle was blown up on a mine allegedly supplied by Armenia. The ministry also claimed that Russian peacekeepers helped Armenians transport "military cargoes" from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh via the Lachin road. The Armenian side denied both accusations.
In a statement issued on April 24, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs pledged that "necessary conditions will be created for the transparent and orderly passage of Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan from this checkpoint to Armenia and Azerbaijan in both directions". It stressed that the control mechanism would be carried out in cooperation with the Russian peacekeeping force.
Azerbaijan asserts that it is their sovereign and legitimate right to establish a border checkpoint on their territory, and there is no violation of the "Trilateral statement" or any other international document or court decision. The Azerbaijani government also argued that they will continue to guarantee the safety of citizens, vehicles, and cargo on the Lachin road while fulfilling their obligations.
France and the United States have expressed concern over the situation, with the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs urging Azerbaijan to comply with its international obligations and restore the free movement of people and goods along the Lachin Corridor. The U.S. Department of State has also called on both parties to resume peace talks and refrain from provocations and hostile actions along the border.
The latest escalation by Baku comes amid signs of widening divisions between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said that Armenia recognises Azerbaijan's territorial integrity (including Nagorno-Karabakh) and is ready to sign a peace treaty with Baku.
Armenian opposition leaders have portrayed the statement as further proof of their claims that Pashinian is helping Baku regain full control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Political leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh also denounced the Armenian prime minister's remarks, saying they are "consistent with the official position of Baku".