Europe & Central Asia
Posted: 6 July 2023
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Fighting intensifies further amid near-complete blockade of Artsakh
Armed clashes along the Armenia-Artsakh1The disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. ACLED refers to the de facto state and its institutions in the ethnic Armenian majority areas of Nagorno-Karabakh as Artsakh — the name by which the de facto territory refers to itself. For more on methodology and coding decisions around de facto states, see this methodology primer.-Azerbaijan Line of Contact more than doubled in June compared to May. Overall levels of armed violence reached their highest point since the latest major spike in hostilities in the region in autumn 2022. ACLED records 126 armed clashes in June, compared with 82 and 87 in September and November last year. In addition to hotspots around Artsakh and along Armenia’s eastern border with Azerbaijan, a significant number of ceasefire violations occurred around the Armenian town of Yeraskh on the border with Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave. During fighting in June, at least four military fatalities were reported, all due to Azerbaijani drone strikes at Artsakh positions on 28 June.
Amid escalating tensions, Armenian forces shot at Azerbaijani border guards attempting to install an Azerbaijani flag in front of a Russian peacekeepers’ border checkpoint on 15 June. The Russian checkpoint is located on a bridge over the Hakari river, where Azerbaijan installed a checkpoint of its own in late April. The incident led to Azerbaijan completely closing the Lachin corridor linking Armenia and Artsakh, intensifying the humanitarian crisis in the latter.2Lilit Shahverdyan, ‘Nagorno-Karabakh under total blockade,’ Eurasianet, 23 June 2023 Azerbaijan subsequently allowed medical evacuations from Artsakh to Armenia and the movement of medical supplies to the enclave,3Ani Avetisyan, ‘Azerbaijan restores Red Cross access to Nagorno-Karabakh,’ Open Caucasus Media, 26 June 2023 after Russian peacekeepers airlifted a critically ill baby from Artsakh to Armenia.4Facebook@ArtsakhInformation, 24 June 2023 Despite the violence and inflammatory announcements, both sides claimed unspecified progress during United States-mediated peace talks on a draft agreement.5Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, ‘Press Release,’ 29 June 2023; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, ‘No:362/23, Press Release on the meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held in Arlington, Virginia,’ 30 June 2023 Prior to the negotiations, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov dismissed Armenian demands that security guarantees be provided to ethnic Armenians remaining in Artsakh as part of any settlement.6Andrew Osborn and Mike Collett-White, ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan says extra guarantees for enclave’s ethnic Armenians not possible,’ Reuters, 23 June 2023 In addition, a senior Azerbaijani military officer threatened the use of force against Artsakh armed formations in response to “provocations or illegal actions.”7Lilit Shahverdyan, ‘Deadly clash erupts in Nagorno-Karabakh amid Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks,’ Eurasianet, 28 June 2023
The conflict over Artsakh has persisted since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Artsakh won a secession war against Azerbaijan in 1994, with the latter regaining parts of Artsakh and adjacent areas after another war in 2020.
France: Police shooting of teenager sparks nationwide riots
A video of a police officer fatally shooting a teenager of North African heritage on 27 June during a traffic check in Nanterre, a suburb west of Paris, triggered a wave of riots in about 250 French cities and towns. While reminiscent of the unrest prompted by the death of two teenagers in a police chase in 2005, the rioting has extended beyond the poorer outskirts of French cities.8Michel Wieviorka, ‘Crisis vs movement: understanding riots in France,’ Le Grand Continent, 3 July 2023 It has been the worst outburst of street violence since ACLED coverage began in 2020, exceeding levels of violent demonstrations triggered by minimum retirement age reforms since the beginning of the year. The demonstrations quickly deteriorated, with some participants smashing windows, setting cars and buildings on fire, throwing fireworks at riot police, and barricading streets. The capital city of Paris and the surrounding area, as well as other major urban centers, including Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg, were particularly affected. There were also multiple reports of shops looted. A youth died when he fell while attempting to break into a shop from its roof in Petit-Quevilly in northwestern France. Authorities struggled to re-impose public order despite deploying thousands of police officers to the streets at night9Sylvie Corbet et al., ‘France mobilizes tens of thousands of police to head off unrest after police fatally shot a teenager,’ Associated Press, 29 June 2023 and imposing curfews in dozens of cities and towns.10Radio France, ‘Urban violence: curfews in multiple cities across France,’ 2 July 2023 About 700 police personnel were injured11Antoine Albertini and Luc Bronner, ‘Pillage, arson, attacks: an astonishing tally of overnight riots in France,’ Le Monde, 2 July 2023 in clashes with rioters, over 3,000 of whom were detained.12Sud Ouest, ‘Riots: violence on the wane, 72 arrests overnight, time for the government to tally,’ 4 July 2023
Mayor’s offices and municipal buildings, along with other public buildings such as schools and police stations, appeared to have been particularly targeted, with reports of at least 150 incidents. There were also reports of targeting mayors, including direct attacks and setting their vehicles on fire. In an incident that occurred overnight on 2 July in L’Haÿ-les-Roses, a suburb south of Paris, perpetrators rammed open and set alight the house of a mayor, whose wife and two children had to escape the flames while the mayor was guarding the mayor’s office.13Benoît Floc’h, ‘Urban riots: assassination attempt of the mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses highlights aggression against elected officials,’ Le Monde, 2 July 2023 The woman and one of the children were injured as a result. The violence prompted rallies in support of local officials and calls for a “return to civil peace.”14France Inter, ‘Images: rallies in front of mayor’s offices everywhere in France in support of the Mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses,’ 3 July 2023 The riots appeared to be waning following the weekend of 30 June. The police officer who shot the teenager in Nanterre is being investigated for manslaughter.
For more information on violence against officials in France and the European Union at large, see ACLED’s special project on violence targeting local officials
Kosovo-Serbia: Standoff over northern Kosovo municipalities continues
Demonstrations continued unabated in northern Kosovo in response to an attempt by Kosovan authorities in late May to install ethnic Albanian mayors in Serb-majority areas following the mass boycott of snap local polls. Ethnic Serbian residents in Kosovo’s Mitrovica region took to the streets almost daily, also demonstrating against the arrests of members of the ethnic Serbian community suspected of targeting peacekeepers and journalists during clashes the previous month. Journalists covering demonstrations were again targeted on four occasions in June. Kosovo police arrested a Serb mob leader on 13 June, and Sergian forces detained three Kosovan police officers in a border area between Kosovo and Serbia the following day, further fuelling tensions in the region.15Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – Balkan Service, ‘Pristina Says Serbia ‘Kidnaps’ Three Police Officers In North Kosovo; Belgrade Says Arrest Took Place On its Territory,’ 14 June 2023 Kosovo authorities beefed up security checks on the border with Serbia and briefly closed two border crossings.16Sylejman Kllokoqi and Llazar Semini, ‘Kosovo tightens security at border with Serbia in row over detained police officers,’ Associated Press, 15 June 2023; Twitter@BalkanInsight, 20 June 2023
Amid ongoing tensions, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell hosted separate emergency talks with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on 22 June, demanding a de-escalation of the crisis and the re-run of the disputed mayoral elections in northern Kosovo.17Josep Borrel, ‘Kosovo-Serbia: Press Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell after the crisis management meetings with Prime Minister Kurti and President Vučić,’ European Union External Action Service, 22 June 2023 Following the talks, Serbia released the three detained Kosovan policemen on 26 June.18Milica Stojanovic and Xhorxhina Bami, ‘Serbia Releases Three Seized Kosovo Policemen,’ Balkan Insight, 26 June 2023 Meanwhile, Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti reiterated his willingness to re-run the mayoral elections in northern Kosovo, with the condition that at least 20% of constituents petition for them.19Florent Bajrami and Llazar Semini, ‘Kosovo’s prime minister offers to hold new elections in tense Serb-majority municipalities,’ Associated Press, 29 June 2023 Furthermore, local authorities designated two Serbian groups operating in northern Kosovo as ‘terrorist’ groups on 29 June,20Xhorxhina Bami and Milica Stojanovic, Kosovo Declares Serb Groups in North ‘Terrorists,’ Balkan Insight, 29 June 2023 a step that may lead to continuing tensions.
Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008 in the aftermath of the civil war occurring a decade earlier. The issue of granting self-governance to ethnic Serbian-majority areas in northern Kosovo has remained unresolved since, leading to frequent flare-ups in the region.21The Economist, ‘Ethnic Serbs and Albanians are at each others’ throats,’ 29 June 2023
Russia: Wagner Group rebels
The Wagner Group’s simmering dispute with the Russian Ministry of Defense came to a head on 24 June, prompted by the ministry’s order earlier that month that all armed “volunteer formations” come into its fold.22Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, ‘Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia Holds a Teleconference on Staffing Russian Armed Forces with Contracted Military Personnel,’ 10 June 2023 On the morning of 24 June – after having accused regular Russian units of targeting a Wagner camp in the occupied part of Ukraine’s Donbas on the eve23Aric Toler, ‘Site of Alleged Wagner Camp Attack Recently Visited by War Blogger,’ Bellingcat, 23 June 2023 – a 10,000-strong group with heavy weapons crossed into Russia and occupied military sites in and near Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh. Meeting no apparent resistance from the regular military and law enforcement, the group continued toward Moscow, ostensibly seeking to hold the defense ministry’s leadership to account.24Andrew Osborn and Kevin Liffey, ‘Russia accuses mercenary chief of armed mutiny after he vows to punish top brass,’ Reuters, 24 June 2023
In response, Russian authorities accused the group of launching an armed rebellion, blocked major highways leading to Moscow, and announced a counter-terrorist operation.25Telegram @rbc_news, 24 June 2023 The Russian Air Force bombed advancing Wagner columns during their initial drive on Rostov-on-Don and subsequent move in the Voronezh region, losing six military helicopters, a command-and-control bomber jet, and 13 crew members in the process.26Oryx, ‘Chef’s Special – Documenting Equipment Losses During the 2023 Wagner Group Mutiny, 24 June 2023 A projectile fired by a Wagner fighter aiming at a Russian military chopper hit a kerosene tanker in Voronezh city prompting a massive fire. Later in the day, Russian air forces blew up a bridge near the Voronezh region’s town of Borisoglebsk. Three civilians, including a child, were injured while crossing the bridge in a car.
In the evening, when Wagner columns had reached the Lipetsk region about 200 kilometers south of Moscow, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka claimed to have negotiated a settlement with the Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. Lukashenka claimed Prigozhn agreed to return his columns to Wagner camps in exchange for amnesty and a safe haven in Belarus.27Gabriel Gavin and Christian Oliver, ‘Kremlin says Prigozhin will depart for Belarus after rebellion fizzles,’ Politico, 24 June 2023 President Vladimir Putin subsequently offered Wagner Group members a choice of either entering into contracts with the Ministry of Defence, quitting, or re-deploying to Belarus.28Vladimir Putin, ‘Address to Citizens of Russia,’ Kremlin.ru, 26 June 2023
Force generation issues due to the war against Ukraine since February 2022 have led to a proliferation of paramilitary groups created by Russian regional authorities and private conglomerates. Subsequently, this has stirred strife with the regular Russian army and among the irregular armed formations themselves. This deteriorating internal insecurity comes at a time of increasing direct spillover of the Ukraine war in Russia’s border regions. The number of cross-border shelling incidents increased to 180 in May from a base of about 50 events on average since October 2022, and rose by a further quarter in June. Moreover, drone strikes on areas further away from the border continued. Pro-Ukrainian Russian militants also undertook another raid across the border in the Belgorod region, in addition to an incursion in the same region the previous month and two other raids in March and April.
Ukraine: Russia destroys critical dam to stave off Ukrainian counter-offensive
On 6 June, in the Kherson region, the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro river collapsed following the alleged detonation of explosives by Russian forces. The dam’s collapse led to the flooding of dozens of settlements downstream, leading to the reported deaths of 21 civilians in Ukrainian-controlled areas and 46 others in the Russian-occupied part of the region, with scores missing and thousands displaced.29ACAPS, ‘Ukraine: Flooding due to the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam,’ 9 June 2023 This contributed to an over 60% increase in civilian fatalities in June compared to May. An internal blast at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant occupied by the Russian forces likely caused the destruction of the dam.30James Glanz et al., ‘Why the Evidence Suggests Russia Blew Up the Kakhovka Dam,’ New York Times, 16 June 2023 The resulting flood may have blocked potential Ukrainian crossing of the river,31Christopher Miller and Max Seddon, ‘Military briefing: Russia has most to gain from Ukrainian dam breach,’ Financial Times, 6 June 2023 though the flood also washed away Russian defenses on the Dnipro shore.32Kateryna Stepanenko et al., ‘Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, June 7, 2023,’ Institute for the Study of War, 7 June 2023 While Russian occupation authorities were slow to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis,33Pjotr Sauer, ‘Russian forces accused of blocking flood evacuation efforts in Ukraine,’ Guardian, 8 June 2023 Russian forces shelled evacuating civilians in and near the city of Kherson, reportedly killing at least six people, including a pregnant woman, and wounding about 40 others. Russia also denied the United Nations access to affected areas.34Denis Brown, ‘Statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, on humanitarian access to areas under Russian control,’ United Nations, 18 June 2023 Elsewhere in Ukraine, indiscriminate Russian shelling, aerial and missile strikes, and the debris from intercepted projectiles and drones led to over 130 civilian fatalities, with Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Dnipropetrovsk regions among the most affected.
The overall levels of violence in Ukraine have been on a slow upward trend, in line with the ACLED Conflict Alert System (CAST) projections. While shelling events remained at similar levels compared to May, armed clashes surged significantly in the Zaporizhia region and also increased in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Despite initial setbacks since the beginning of the counter-offensive in early June,35Peter Beaumont and Patrick Wintour, ‘Ukraine’s failed Mala Tokmachka assault lays bare counteroffensive challenges,’ Guardian, 14 June 2023 Ukrainian forces liberated a string of settlements south of Velyka Novosilka in the Donetsk region near the boundary with the Zaporizhia region as well as several settlements in the latter region south of Orikhiv. In addition, Ukrainian forces secured marginal gains around recently Russian-captured Bakhmut. Fighting also continued to be concentrated on the Avdiivka-Donetsk city line and the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line further north on the boundary between Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.
For more information, see ACLED’s Ukraine Conflict Monitor