Azerbaijan's Army Says It Is 'Ready To Fulfil Even The Order Of Destroying' Armenia's Capital City

A second war is looming on the European periphery as long-running tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have escalated sharply over the past week, with Azerbaijan’s military even warning that it could strike Armenia’s capital.

On August 8, a day after an epically long Twitter statement in which Azeri President Ilham Aliyev sabre-rattled against the “Armenian barbarians and vandals,” Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry released a statement saying it was ready to respond decisively against any Armenian acts of sabotage.

This came in response to alleged threats issued by the Armenian minister of defence against Azerbaijan’s Mingachevir Dam.

“Our Armed Forces have any opportunity to strike at all the military installations of the enemy located in our occupied regions and Armenia. The Armenian people should know that the response to any sabotage attempts against Mingachevir Hydro Power Plant from the Armenian side will be more miserable,” the statement said.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that Azerbaijan had missiles targeting Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and cautioned that Azerbaijan had the capability to raze the city — and that the army would do so if ordered.

“Our army, targeting Armenia with missiles, is ready to fulfil even the order of destroying Yerevan,” the statement says.

Armenia is blaming Azerbaijan for the recent uptick in tensions. Seyran Ohanyan, Armenia’s Minister of Defence, has accused Azerbaijan of violating a ceasefire between the two countries 18,000 times over the past year, but also doesn’t think that war between the two countries is likely.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been in a state of frozen conflict since 1994, when the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement after three years of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. The territory is mostly ethnic Armenian, but it was included in Soviet Azerbaijan.

Currently the region is a self-declared independent republic backed with Armenian support.

Armenia and Azerbaijan both maintain forces of approximately 20,000 soldiers on either side of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh border. Some of them are stationed in World War I-style trenches.

The two nations have also engaged in an arms race, with Azerbaijan, flush with cash from its petro-economy, increasing its military spending by 493% in 2013.

Yet Armenia and Russia are stalwart allies. Russia’s only military base in the South Caucasus is located within Armenia, and the nation is set to join Russia’s Eurasian Customs Union.

In return, Armenia was one of only ten countries to back Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the United Nations.

Despite its close relationship with Armenia, Russia has sought to play both sides of the conflict. In May, Russia concluded a major arms sale to Azerbaijan. Russia is also a co-chair, along with France and the U.S., of the Minsk Group, the diplomatic team that has sought a negotiated end to the Nagorno-Karabkh conflict.

However much the sabre rattling between the two countries increases, Thomas de Waal, a South Caucasus expert and a senior associate in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Radio Free Europe/Radio liberty that he doesn’t think that the conflict will escalate into a full-blown war.

Tensions between the two countries generally rise in the spring and summer only to die down again in the fall and winter.

“That seems to be a pattern, that in the winter it’s much quieter when … everyone sort of just hunkers down in their trenches,” de Waal told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “And in the spring and summer it gets worse.”

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