- A U.S.-backed ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia that took effect Monday was broken only four minutes after it started.
- It’s unclear which side broke it, although evidence points to Azerbaijan, which has made substantial gains in the ongoing conflict.
- This is the third failed ceasefire, although neither side seems to have expected it to last very long. The last two were brokered by Russia.
- The combatants are supposed to meet Thursday for negotiations to resolve the conflict, but based on how things are going, that’s unlikely to happen.
Back to Square One
A ceasefire between Armenian and Azeri forces that was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fell apart on Monday just four minutes after it started.
The ceasefire was agreed to by both parties and was first announced by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a ceasefire effective at midnight,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The two countries are fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, alongside a few neighboring regions with a heavy Armenian troop presence. The regions in question are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but features a majority ethnic Armenian population, who in ’92 formed a state called the Republic of Artsakh. Artsakh receives financial, commercial, developmental, and military ties with Armenia proper.
On September 27, tensions over the region broke out into open conflict after both sides accused the other of breaking a decades-long ceasefire. Major players in the region, like Turkey and Russia, each support different sides in the war. Turkey has provided material support to Azerbaijan, including drones and fighter jets. Russia provides Armenia with arms and anti-drone missile defense system; however, unlike Turkey Russia has consistently made efforts to negotiate a ceasefire.
Unfortunately, every Russian brokered ceasefire has similarly ended just minutes after starting, with each side blaming the other for breaking the agreement.
The U.S. brokered ceasefire seemed to have a good start, with Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan tweeting, “As agreed in Washington DC, with US mediation, the Armenian side will fully maintain the ceasefire starting from 8 a.m.”
U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also spoke on behalf of local Armenian groups, writing “My colleagues in the Armenian Caucus have consistently called for the US to take decisive action holding Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable and bring an end to the bloodshed. I’m thankful @SecPompeo negotiated a ceasefire that hopefully holds and leads to an independent Artsakh.”
Many Armenians were correctly doubtful about how successful the ceasefire would be because of how all past ceasefires ended. Some online wrote things like, “Pres. Trump, since this humanitarian ceasefire like the previous two will likely not be observed by Azerbaijan, hope the US government has follow-up plans. Turkey is the main reason why this war is taking place, so sanctioning them would be the single most important act for peace.”
For their part, the Azeri perspective could be easily summed up with a tweet by a user that reflects the longheld grudge against Armenia for allegedly pushing ethnic Azeris out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Your proud team has not been able to save 1 million people for more than 30 years,” the user wrote. “The brutality of the Armenian government drove 1 million Azerbaijanis from the Azerbaijani lands in Karabakh. Now they are returning home. The only team you can be proud of is the Azerbaijani Army.”
It’s important to note that, it’s officially unclear who broke the ceasefire, with each side blaming the other for targeting and bombing civilian centers in Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring Ganja, respectively.
News of the failed ceasefire quickly gained traction after Azeri Foreign minister Hikmet Hajiyev said, “Since 08.04 armed forces of Armenia started shelling Tartar region and its villages in violation of humanitarian ceasefire. As reported by MOD Azerbaijan armed forces of Armenia with artillery and mine launchers attacking our forces since 08.05“
Armenia disputes this, claiming that they are trying to maintain the ceasefire even though Azerbaijan is the one shelling cities in Artsakh. This back and forth over who broke the ceasefires have continued the he-said-she-said narrative of the conflict. Virtually every event is disputed by either side, and restrictions on journalists make it hard to verify information.
Armenia does largely allow journalists to many spots in the warzone, although with some restrictions. Azerbaijan, however, heavily restricts journalists, and clear answers from their side of the front are hard to obtain.
Progress of the War
If a side stood to gain something from breaking a ceasefire, it’d probably be Azerbaijan. They have made huge gains towards gaining control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Even though both sides actively seek to play up their gains and diminish their losses, satellite images and alleged geolocation data show that Azeri forces are now in large parts of southern Nagorno-Karabakh.
Initial claims about geolocation date were disputed, however, on October 27, Armenian forces announced they were making strategic retreats from cities in southern Artsakh in an effort to consolidate forces and avoid unnecessary loses; however, they stressed these were minor setbacks.
This indeed may be a minor setback because other information indicates that while Azeri forces may have made some large gains, they also are having trouble holding the territory and may have suffered untenable losses for it.
Azeri losses are notoriously hard to confirm, but to date they have stated that 65 civillians have lost their lives in the conflict to date.
Armenia claims to have inflicted over 6,000 military casualties on Azeri forces since the conflict began. Officially, 900 soldiers and civilians have been killed on the Armenian side since the conflict began. Although doctors in Stepanakert, while speaking to The Daily Beast, say that over 1,000 soldiers have died, with an additional 300-400 civilian deaths.
Both sides are due to meet again on Thursday with members of the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia, in order to try and find a resolution to the conflict.
See What Others Are Saying: (The Hill) (ABC News) (The Daily Beast)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”