On July 12, 2020, clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani military forces broke out in the Tovuz/Tavush frontier, signaling the revival of the frozen conflict in the Caucasus. Following the events, attention has naturally turned to the Nagorno-Karabagh region, the Azerbaijani territory currently occupied by the Armenian forces.
Azerbaijani sources reported 12 military casualties, including several high-ranking officers. A 76-year-old Azerbaijani civilian has also been killed as a result of the Armenian shelling. While Azerbaijan claims to have neutralized 20 Armenian troops, Yerevan has announced only four casualties.
Open Source Intelligence Assessment
The most recent skirmish between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted upon the Armenian artillery shelling of the Tovuz region in north-western Azerbaijan. Armenian authorities claimed that the unwarranted attack was a direct response to Azerbaijani forces trying to cross the border. So far, there is not sufficient open-source data in league with the Armenian version of the story.
Azerbaijani response to what it officially claims to be an Armenian violation of the ceasefire has been twofold. Azerbaijani artillery units have pounded the Armenian military positions with howitzers and mortars. Azerbaijan has also extensively used its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to penetrate into the Armenian buildup and target its rear area.
The extensive use of armed or unarmed drones by both sides remains one of the predominant characteristics of the spiraling escalation. Azerbaijani sources have widely shared the images of a downed Armenian tactical X-55 UAV. Sensationally, Yerevan announced to have downed 13 Azerbaijani drones including an Israeli-made Hermes 900. Baku has since refuted the claims. Moreover, Armenian sources stated that their armed forces have used an indigenous drone in active combat for the first time.
While there is not enough tangible proof to confirm most of the material loses, the information warfare aspect of the conflict is much easier to recognize. Both sides have used their respective MoDs’ official social media accounts to share daily drone footages of airstrikes and shelling. Following the trend in other conflict zones such as Syria and Libya, Baku and Yerevan grasped the significance of winning the information warfare along with the physical battle-space.
Since the start of the recent escalation, Ankara has firmly stood with Baku, its staunch ally. President Erdogan stated that Turkey would never hesitate to protect Azerbaijan if and when needed. On the same note, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu added that Turkey stands with Azerbaijan with all its capabilities.
Those strong messages are soon to be backed by more intensified military-to-military and defense cooperation between Ankara and Baku. Notably, Ismail Demir, Turkey’s procurement chief, hinted at the transfer of Turkish indigenous UAVs and electronic warfare systems to the Azerbaijani Armed Forces.
According to SIPRI’s 2019 Trade in International Arms Transfers report, Armenia’s arms imports have increased by 415 percent between 2010–14 and 2015–19, and 94 percent of its arsenal came from Russia [in the latter period]. Azerbaijan’s arms imports were 3.3 times higher compared to Armenia through the same timeframe. It ranked 30th in the top 40 largest importers of major arms, with Israel, Russia, and Turkey as its three main suppliers. According to SIPRI, between 2015 and 2019, both Armenia and Azerbaijan “have imported missiles capable of attacking targets deep inside each other’s territories”.
The arms race in the Caucasus, coupled with the frozen conflict revolving around the occupied Azerbaijani territories, sets a dangerous flashpoint to monitor. The risk of inter-state war cannot be neglected at the time being.