Armenia and Azerbaijan accused one another on Tuesday of firing directly into each other’s territory and rejected pressure to hold peace talks as their conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh threatened to mushroom into all-out war.
Both reported firing from the other side across their shared border, well to the west of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region over which fierce fighting broke out between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces on Sunday.
The incidents signalled a further escalation of the conflict despite urgent appeals from Russia, the United States and others to halt it.
The conflict has reignited concerns about stability in the South Caucasus region, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, speaking to Russian state television, flatly ruled out any possibility of talks. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the same channel they could not take place while fighting continued.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians and backed by Armenia. It broke away from Azerbaijan in a 1990s war but is not recognised by any country as an independent republic.
Dozens of people have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since clashes between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces broke out on Sunday, threatening to draw in neighbours including Azerbaijan’s close ally Turkey.
After a closed-door discussion on Tuesday the 15-member U.N. Security Council “expressed concern” about the clashes, condemned the use of force and backed a call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate halt to fighting.
Further stoking tensions between the two former Soviet republics, Armenia said a Turkish F-16 fighter jet had shot down one of its warplanes over Armenian airspace, killing the pilot.
It provided no evidence of the incident. Turkey called the claim “absolutely untrue”, and Azerbaijan also denied it.
“The international community should decisively condemn the aggression of Azerbaijan and the actions of Turkey and demand Turkey get out of this region,” Pashinyan told Russian state TV.
“The military presence of Turkey in this region...will bring further escalation and expansion of the scale of the conflict.”
Azeri leader Aliyev accused Armenia of fabricating the plane incident. “Turkey is not a party to the conflict, in no way participates in it and there is no need for this,” he said.
Aliyev said Azerbaijan was calling up tens of thousands of reservists under a partial mobilisation announced on Monday.
“We are able to punish the aggressor ourselves so that he would not even dare to look in our direction,” he said.