Azerbaijan's defense ministry expressed outrage on Saturday after Russia's defense ministry reported that Azerbaijani armed forces had violated the ceasefire that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war by crossing the line of contact.
On Thursday, Azerbaijani forces crossed the line of contact near the village of Parukh in the de facto Republic of Artsakh, entering the village of Khramort. On Friday, an Azerbaijani Bayraktar TB2 drone carried out a strike against forces belonging to Artsakh.
The Republic of Artsakh is a de facto republic internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. In 2020, the area whre the republic is situated was recaptured by Azerbaijan.
"From March 24 to March 25, the armed forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan, violating the provisions of the tripartite statement of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9, 2020, entered the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and set up an observation post," read a statement by the Russian defense ministry.
"Four strikes were made by an unmanned aerial vehicle of the type "Bayraktar TB-2" on the units of the armed formations of Nagorno-Karabakh in the area of the settlement of Furukh," it added.
"The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh is taking measures to resolve the situation and convince Azeri troops to withdraw from the designated peacekeeping area," the statement added.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry condemned the statement, saying it "does not reflect the truth" and claimed that "members of illegal Armenian armed detachments attempted to sabotage the Azerbaijan Army Units." The statement added that as a result of "immediate measures" the Armenian forces were forced to retreat.
The ministry added that it was Armenia, not Azerbaijan, that was violating the ceasefire reached in 2020, saying that the Armenian army and "illegal Armenian armed detachments" had agreed to leave the area being monitored by Russian peacekeepers, but had not done so.
The ministry added that the Russian defense ministry's statement "contradicts the essence of bilateral relations" and the Declaration on Allied Interaction Russia and Azerbaijan signed this February.
The Azerbaijanis also took issue with the use of the name "Nagorno-Karabakh" for the disputed territory. The Defense Ministry called on the Russian Defense Ministry to completely withdraw the Armenian forces from the territory and asked that the term "Nagorno-Karabakh" not be used.
The Armenian foreign ministry expressed outrage at the Azerbaijani statement, saying: "The recent statements issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense of Azerbaijan once again blatantly indicate that the objective of Azerbaijan’s policy of systematic violence and terror against Nagorno-Karabakh is ethnic cleansing of the Armenian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh."
Earlier on Saturday, the Artsakh Republic's NKR InfoCenter announced that martial law had been introduced in the area. On Saturday, the Azerbaijani armed forces continued to move further into Nagorno-Karabakh area, sparking a skirmish with Artsakh forces, the NKR InfoCenter reported.
Three Armenian soldiers were killed in Artsakh in the Azerbaijani strikes in the area.
According to Russia, the NKR authorities also asked Russia to increase the number of servicemen of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation and military equipment in the region.
On Friday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the escalating situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh area. Pashinyan asked that the actions of Russian peacekeepers be investigated.
The US State Department stated Friday that it was "deeply concerned" with the Azerbaijani troop movements, calling the actions "irresponsible and unnecessarily provocative." The State Department added that Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried had spoken with both the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers.
The Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US rejected the statements by Russian and American officials, tweeting "The statements by @StateDept & Defense Ministry are almost identical regarding these days!"
Hypocrisy at work:The statements by @StateDept & Defense Ministry are almost identical regarding these days!Apparently, one needs to be secular & tolerant majority Muslim country with independent policies based on international law to unite &— Khazar Ibrahim (@hazar_khazar) March 26, 2022
"Apparently, one needs to be [a] secular & tolerant majority Muslim country with independent policies based on international law to unite &," added the ambassador.
In recent days, Armenian authorities have reported that Azerbaijan has cut off a natural gas line to the Artsakh Republic. The pipeline, which goes through Azerbaijani-held territory, had in the past been damaged in an explosion and was repaired by Azerbaijan, who Armenia says added a valve to the line.
On Monday, the line was closed, cutting off the natural gas supply to Artsakh amid extremely cold weather conditions and snowfall. This is the second time in a matter of weeks that the line has been closed.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned that Artsakh is "on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe."
Pashinyan argued that Azerbaijan is attempting to drag Armenia into war, stressing that the pipeline was closed right after Armenia expressed approval for peace agenda proposals offered by Azerbaijan and interest in moving forward with peace talks.
In 2020, a slightly more than month-long war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby areas, ending with a new line of contact drawn. Sporadic clashes have been reported along the line since the war.