Russia and Turkey are reportedly “turning a blind eye” to the ongoing military conflict in Armenia over breakaway territory Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said the country’s forces have taken control of the strategically key city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh after six weeks of bloodshed.
“Shusha is ours – Karabakh is ours,” he said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday, sparking street celebrations.
Armenia reported heavy fighting around the city on Monday following the president’s declaration.
Image: People hold the Azeri flag as they celebrate the capture the town of Shusha
“The combat in the vicinity of Shusha goes on. The Nagorno-Karabakh army units are successfully carrying out their mission, depriving the enemy of the initiative,” said Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan.
As the war threatens to spill on to the edge of Europe, Russia and Turkey are limiting their involvement in the conflict, pledging to provide humanitarian assistance and some military aid.
According to private military contractors, Ankara and Moscow are largely turning a blind eye to the role of mercenaries – possibly fighting on both sides – to avoid fuelling tensions, Reuters reported.
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While Ankara is backing Azerbaijan over fighting with ethnic Armenians in the mountain enclave as part of efforts to boost Turkey’s international clout, and Moscow is determined to defend its own interests in the South Caucasus, neither country wants to be sucked into an all-out war.
Image: Houses have been destroyed by shelling during the ongoing military conflict
NATO member Turkey provided arms supplies to Azerbaijan in recent years and is likely to avoid deeper military involvement if its ally continues to advance in Nagorno-Karabakh, military and political analysts said.
Meanwhile, Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, also has good relations with Azerbaijan and is unlikely to get involved unless Azerbaijan launches a deliberate attack on Armenia.
Thousands are feared dead since fighting erupted on 27 September in the breakaway territory – internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
Image: Military reservists walk along a street during the ongoing military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan
Since the fighting broke out, Azerbaijan has retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a war which killed an estimated 30,000 in the 1990s.
Armenian officials have denied Azerbaijani forces had seized Shusha – the second-largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated his “Azeri brothers” following Mr Aliyev’s announcement, saying the leader’s statement was “a sign” that Azerbaijan would regain control of more territory.
While Ankara denies its involvement, Mr Aliyev confirmed some Turkish F-16 fighter jets still remain in Azerbaijan after a military drill this summer, and there are also reports of Turkish and Russian drones being used by both sides.
Shusha is of significant military value because it is located around six miles south of the region’s capital of Stepanakert and lies along the main road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
Mr Aliyev has vowed that the fighting will continue until Armenia withdraws from the territory.
Source : Sky News