Armenian and Azeri forces have again clashed over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, defying hopes of ending nearly three weeks of fighting in the South Caucasus.
As the fighting flared anew on Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Turkey of inflaming the situation by arming Azerbaijan.
The US, France and Russia are members of an international coalition of world powers that have been trying to broker a durable ceasefire between the Armenians and Azeris.
But as Mr. Pompeo spoke, accusations and counter-accusations were flying out of Yerevan and Baku.
Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Azerbaijan had carried out artillery bombardments of Nagorno-Karabakh from the north, “with total disregard for the humanitarian truce”. He added that Azeri forces had been repelled and had suffered significant losses.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Nagorno-Karabakh forces had been forced to retreat and Azeri forces retained the advantage along the line of contact that divides the sides.
Last Saturday, Russia brokered a ceasefire agreement between the warring sides, which allowed them to swap prisoners and the bodies of the dead. But by Friday, the deal had all but collapsed, especially given unconfirmed reports that Moscow was beginning to reconsider its official, neutral stance.
Analysts say the latest clashes risk creating a humanitarian disaster, especially if it draws in Russia and Turkey.
They note that Ankara has increased military exports sixfold this year to its close ally Azerbaijan. While Russia has maintained close ties with both sides, it nevertheless has a defence pact with Armenia.
Only this week, the RIA News agency reported the Russian navy had started planned military exercises in the Caspian Sea.
The fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, which flared on September 27, is the worst outbreak of violence in the South Caucasus since the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the enclave in the 1990s.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.