By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -Armenia said on Wednesday there was a risk that deadly clashes with Azerbaijan could escalate into war, calling on big powers to pay more attention to a grave situation it said could lead to another major conflict in the former Soviet Union.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have been fighting for decades over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, accused each other of starting a series of border clashes which began along their border late on Monday night.
In an interview with Reuters, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannisyan said around 50 Armenian soldiers had been killed so far and three civilians wounded, though he cautioned that both figures would rise significantly.
Asked about the risks of escalation into a full-blown war, Hovhannisyan said: “There is a clear risk.”
He added, “You know how fragile the situation is in our region. The situation as we just mentioned continues to escalate.”
With Russia preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, the biggest European land invasion since World War Two, long-simmering tensions have boiled over in recent days in former Soviet republics in both the Caucasus and Central Asia.
A conflict in the South Caucasus, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, could pull in big powers such as Russia and Turkey while endangering the pipelines which bring Caspian oil and gas westwards.
Russia is the pre-eminent power in the Caucasus and has peacekeeping troops in the Azeri-Armenian conflict zone as guarantor of an agreement that ended a six-week war two years ago over Nagorno-Karabakh.
CALL FOR CALM
Russia, the United States and France have called for calm after fighting began with artillery, drones and gunfire along the Armenian-Azeri border, from Artanish beside Lake Sevan in the north to Kapan in the south.
“We need more attention from the international community to what has happened – we deserve more attention,” Hovhannisyan said. “You mentioned the war in Ukraine – that is exactly what our neighbour is hoping for: that all the attention will be there and no proper reaction from our major partners.”
Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of starting the clashes. Baku says Armenian sabotage units tried to mine Azeri positions, prompting soldiers to respond. Armenia denies the Azeri narrative.
Turkey backs Azerbaijan. Turkish Bayraktar TB2 aerial drones were used in the Karabakh war – and have been used against Russian invasion forces in Ukraine.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet republics that includes Armenia but not Azerbaijan, decided on Tuesday to dispatch a monitoring mission to Armenia
What does Armenia want Russia to do?
“We have a military arrangement – it’s our major military partner – and there are certain provisions which we asked it to exercise,” Hovhannisyan said.
“We would seriously consider any possibility or any option that might be there.”
(Reporting by Guy FaulconbridgeEditing by Mark Heinrich)