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Azerbaijan and Armenia on the Brink of War After Deadly Clashes

Dozens are reportedly injured in the worst round of violence between the two countries in years.

Mobile artillery units of the self-defence army of Nagorno-Karabakh hold a position outside the settlement of Hadrut, on April 5, 2016.
Mobile artillery units of the self-defence army of Nagorno-Karabakh hold a position outside the settlement of Hadrut, on April 5, 2016. Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Azerbaijan and Armenia clash over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Trump’s tax returns are released two days before the first debate, and Yemen’s warring factions agree to their largest prisoner exchange.

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Border Clashes Could Spark a Wider Confrontation

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Azerbaijan and Armenia clash over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Trump’s tax returns are released two days before the first debate, and Yemen’s warring factions agree to their largest prisoner exchange.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Border Clashes Could Spark a Wider Confrontation

Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted on Sunday over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, reigniting a decades-old conflict and raising concerns about the stability of the Caucasus region as well as the possibility of wider conflict between key international actors, including Turkey and Russia.

The cause of the outbreak is still unclear. Azerbaijan claimed its positions in Nagorno-Karabakh had come under fire from Armenian forces, but Armenia said that Azerbaijani forces had staged a military operation near the disputed region. Nagorno-Karabakh officials said 16 of its personnel were killed and more than 100 wounded in clashes with Azerbaijani forces. Azerbaijan reported 19 civilians wounded.

Amid the violence, Armenia declared martial law and implemented a full military mobilization. “Get ready to defend our sacred homeland,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a post on Facebook. Azerbaijan’s parliament also voted to declare martial law, though it stopped short of full military mobilization.

Source of tension. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a vicious war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-ethnic Armenian enclave which nominally falls under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction. The region gained de facto independence at the end of the war and has developed deep ties with Armenia, but its status remains a source of considerable hostility between the two sides. In July, four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in clashes near the Tavush region in the dispute’s deadliest bout of violence in years.

International significance. Regional disputes have larger geopolitical implications due to the Caucasus’ position as a key transit point for pipelines delivering oil and gas to the world market, and clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have always had outsized significance due to the possibility of dragging key international actors into a wider conflict.

Turkey getting involved. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has long been at odds with Armenia, strongly backed Azerbaijan and urged Armenians to stand against the government’s strategy. “I call on the Armenian people to take hold of their future against their leadership that is dragging them to catastrophe and those using it like puppets, we also call on the world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty,” he said on Twitter. Days before the clashes took place, Turkey reportedly transferred militants out of Syria and into Azerbaijan.

Russia watching. Pashinyan spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call shortly after the outbreak, during which Putin warned against further escalations of violence and urged against a military confrontation. “We are calling on the sides to immediately halt fire and begin talks to stabilise the situation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. Russia is a long-standing ally of Armenia, and it has supplied the country with enormous supplies of arms since the end of its war with Azerbaijan in 1994.

The World This Week

Sep. 28-Oct. 2. The ninth round of Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union takes place.

Sep. 28-29. The Forum of the Regions of Russia and Belarus takes place.

Sep 29. The General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly concludes.

Sep. 29. The first debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Oct. 1-2. EU leaders hold a special summit on the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean.

Oct. 4. Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections.

What We’re Following Today

Trump’s tax returns released. The New York Times published the tax returns of U.S. President Donald Trump in a report that could seriously upend the country’s presidential election just over a month before voters go to the polls. The bombshell report showed that Trump, whose net worth is estimated at $2.5 billion, paid no income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years. He also only paid $750 in taxes in 2017, the year he became president. 

Democrats railed against Trump over the revelations. “Donald Trump is a liar, a cheater, and a crooked businessman,” Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted. “But he’s also taking advantage of a broken, corrupt, and unequal system that’s built for people like him to do what he did.”

Trump’s supporters have mostly dismissed the claims. Charlie Kirk, founder of the pro-Trump political action committee Turning Point USA, tweeted “I’m far more interested in the tax returns of a politician who became a multimillionaire than the tax returns of a billionaire who became a politician.” Trump himself called the report “fake news.”

Belarus protests hit 50th day. 100,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Sunday in support of exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, marking the 50th consecutive day of protests against longtime President Aleksandr Lukashenko. One of the top opposition channels called the demonstrations a symbolic “people’s inauguration of the real president,” referring to Tikhanovskaya. Protesters were met with force from the authorities, with around 200 people reportedly being detained.

Lukashenko was inaugurated president in a secret ceremony last week, sparking immediate protests and drawing criticism from several international figures who largely rejected his legitimacy. EU leaders will meet later this week to discuss sanctions on top Belarusian officials involved in last month’s electoral fraud.

Mali has a new prime minister. Malian interim President Bah Ndaw appointed former Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane as the country’s interim prime minister, meeting a key demand of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and likely paving the way for the bloc to lift the sanctions it imposed in the aftermath of last month’s military coup. Last week, Mali’s military junta appointed Ndaw, a former colonel, as interim president and coup leader Col. Assimi Goita as interim vice president, a decision that flew in the face of ECOWAS’s initial demand that the transitional government be led by civilians.

But ECOWAS softened those conditions after Ndaw was sworn in on Friday, saying it would lift sanctions if a civilian was installed as prime minister. With no military background, Ouane appears to meet that criterion.

Keep an Eye On 

Progress in Yemen. Yemen’s warring factions agreed to the largest prisoner swap since the outbreak of their civil war in 2014, raising hopes that a ceasefire and an end to the conflict could be near. The Yemeni government met with the leaders of the Houthi rebels and agreed to exchange 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, with the aim of building trust before further efforts are made to revive the country’s peace process. “I urge the parties to move forward immediately with the release and to spare no effort in building upon this momentum to swiftly agree to releasing more detainees,” said Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen.

Sunday’s move represents one of the most promising developments toward peace in recent years. Both sides agreed to exchange 15,000 prisoners in 2018, but that pact ultimately bore little fruit.

Swiss snub far-right governing party. Switzerland voted against a referendum that would have put new limitations on immigration from the European Union. The result was overwhelming, reflecting the country’s broad support for the principle of free movement, and a rejection of the governing Swiss People’s Party’s anti-immigration stance.

Switzerland, which is known for its neutrality in international relations, has rejected joining the European Union on several occasions, but Sunday’s vote was a sign that the country still wishes to maintain close ties to the bloc. “The bilateral path is the right one for Switzerland and for the EU. The Swiss people have confirmed this path again today,” Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told reporters in the capital of Bern.

Odds and Ends 

12 more years. Just a week after refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump joked at a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, about serving more than the constitutional limit of two terms as president, inciting chants of “12 more years” from his supporters. “He will not give up power!,” Trump said, pretending to be a newscaster. “Under no circumstances will he give up power. He intends to serve at least two more terms.”

This wasn’t the first time Trump mentioned serving more than two terms. At a campaign event in Nevada earlier this month, Trump suggested that he might be entitled to a third term. “After [winning in November], we’ll negotiate, right?” he said. “Because we’re probably—based on the way we were treated—we are probably entitled to another four after that.”

That’s it for today. 

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Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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