Armenia said Thursday it may consider formally recognizing the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region, in a move that would increase tensions with Azerbaijan just a month after clashes over the disputed territory claimed 110 lives.
Armenia said it would debate a law that would recognize Karabakh as an independent country “in the event of fresh Azerbaijani aggression,” according to a statement on the government’s official website.
At least 110 people died last month in the worst violence to hit Karabakh since an inconclusive ceasefire deal in 1994 halted a war that left some 30,000 people dead.
The two sides never signed a definitive peace deal after Armenian separatists seized the territory from Azerbaijan, and have been rearming heavily in recent years.
Karabakh has declared itself independent but has not been officially recognized by any country, including its main backer Armenia.
Azerbaijan called Armenia’s move “yet another insult to the negotiations process.”
If Armenia recognizes the separatist regime in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, the Minsk Group (of mediators co-chaired by the United States, France, and Russia) “will lose its mandate,” it said in a statement.
Key regional player Russia said it was “following very closely all decisions” and warned against any moves that could increase tensions between Baku and Yerevan.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force.
But Moscow-backed Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.
During the recent uptick in violence, Israel was reported to have supplied Azerbaijan with military and logistical support.
According to foreign reports in April, an Israeli-made kamikaze drone was spotted over the Karabakh region, and two weeks later, a large cargo plane belonging to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry was said to have landed in Israel.
Azerbaijan is Israel’s biggest oil supplier, a key recipient of Israeli arms, and a partner in a complicated three-way dance with Iran. In 2012, the two countries signed a $1.4 billion defense deal that focused on drones and missile defense systems.
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