“Ukraine is the largest mined area in the world,” the international think tank GLOBSEC said in a report published on 26 April. “Ukraine has become one of the world’s largest minefields,” the UN agency UNDP reported on 4 April. The report explained that “more than 14 million people” are at risk of being blown up by mines.
But before Ukraine, this horrible record belonged to another country friendly to Ukraine, the soil of which is filled with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of exactly the same Russian-made mines. Moreover, their number continues to grow even today, again thanks to Russia.
The country is Azerbaijan, which liberated its occupied territories of Karabakh in 2020. The separatist enclave that remains in this region, inhabited only by Armenians (after the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in the late 80s and early 90s), is now guarded by Russian army units brought there after Moscow put pressure on Baku to stop Azeri military actions. The entire liberated Azerbaijani territory was planted with mines, which have already killed and wounded more than 300 civilians, including children.
Mines were laid by the Armenians to prevent the possibility of settling these lands by Azerbaijanis expelled 30 years ago. As the British newspaper Express noted, “the Armenians used Russian made mines”, but they made many copies of their own.”
Moreover, the further sowing of Azerbaijani territory with these “seeds of death” continues today with assistance from the Russian military. In a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan noted: “Armenia continues to create new combat positions on the territory of Azerbaijan, where … a contingent of the Russian Federation is temporarily deployed; it carries out engineering and fortification work and in this context plants a large number of mines.”
According to a November report by the international group Landmine Monitor 2022, the presence of a Russian military contingent “has led to a restriction” of de-mining activities by the Azerbaijani side.
The new mines that Azerbaijani sappers are discovering now could not have been laid during the hostilities of 2020, since they have a production date of 2021 stencilled on their casings.
Where are these mines coming from?
Azerbaijan’s representative to the UN, Yashar Aliyev, stressed in a letter to the organization’s Secretary General in February 2023: “… the Armenian company “Ayk-Mek” has for many years produced weapons and ammunition for the Armenian armed forces, including landmines. In particular, this company has produced the mines that Azerbaijan has detected in its territory since August 2022”.
This company is based in Yerevan and uses the modernized old Soviet “Electron” plant, but it does not belong to Armenia, although it works for the Ministry of Defense of that country. According to several Armenian sources, this is a Russian enterprise.
On 02.11.2002 the Russian government issued a decree “On Signing Protocols between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Armenia on Transfer of Property Owned by the Republic of Armenia to the Russian Federation”. As the Armenian service of Radio Liberty noted that year, “even after the signing of the final agreement on the transfer of property, neither the price of the objects to be transferred nor even the list of these enterprises is clearly specified.” But six years later, Russian media outlet Regnum reported: “The Armenian enterprises transferred to Russia under the agreement of Debt-for-Equity, will be involved in the implementation of military-economic cooperation agreements within the framework of the CSTO Interstate Commission on Military-Economic Cooperation (ICMEC). The chairman of the commission, Ivan Materov, announced this at a press conference in Yerevan. The Business Council established by the decision of the ICMEC comprised 42 companies-representatives…”. The “Elektron” plant was named among them.
How exactly did Russia get the mine production plant? It was handed over by the head of the Armenian government Robert Kocharyan, whom the speaker of the Kremlin dictator called “a great friend of Russia“. And this friendship is flourishing: a month after the beginning of full-scale aggression against Ukraine, the parliamentary bloc “Hayastan” led Kocharyan condemned the “blatant phenomena of anti-Russian sentiment in some countries”. And in August 2022 leaflets were plastered all over Yerevan with the logo of “Hayastan” bloc, the letter Z and inscriptions :”Crimea is Russia. Donetsk is Russia. Luhansk is Russia. Mariupol is Russia. Zaporizhzhya is Russia. Kherson is Russia”.
So the blood of Ukrainian and Azerbaijani civilians is on the hands of Russia and its ally Armenia.
Obviously, the commonality of this threat is not accidental. Both states oppose pro-Russian separatism: Ukraine in Donbass and Crimea, Azerbaijan in Karabakh. Ukraine is Europe’s stronghold against Moscow’s aggressive expansion; Azerbaijan is one of the main suppliers of energy resources to the EU, compensating for its rejection of the Russian gas.
Given Azerbaijan’s regular humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Baku’s experience in the mine threat can be useful to Kyiv not only in terms of mine clearance. For three years, the Azerbaijani authorities have been promoting the issue in international organizations, drawing international attention to it and defending the interests of mine-affected countries.
Baku, which has appealed to the International Court of Justice to “stop the killing and maiming of Azerbaijanis on ethnic and national grounds by explosive devices”, has gained valuable experience in legal counteraction in this context in 2021-2023. It is all the more important, taking into account the statement of President Zelensky of December 8, 2022: “I am sure that it will be among the charges against Russia for aggression – especially for mine terrorism”. By the way, Azerbaijan characterizes the threat in the same terms: in November 2022, the republic’s representative Yashar Aliyev, addressing the UN Secretary General, noted: “Armenia must stop mine terrorism”.