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Baku, Yerevan exchange statements on possibility of striking critical infrastructure

Tensions on Armenian-Azerbaijani border flared up on July 12

MOSCOW, July 16. /TASS/. Against the backdrop of the ongoing border conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia exchanged harsh statements about the possibility of striking strategically important facilities on each other’s territory on Thursday.

"The Armenian side should keep in mind that our armed forces have advanced missile systems in service, capable of conducting high-precision strikes on the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, which may result in a huge disaster for Armenia," Vagif Dargyakhly said.

He added that "land topography of the Mingachevir water reservoir, protective land works in the area and advanced air defense systems in service with the country’s missile defense troops make a strike on this strategically important facility impossible."

Yerevan described the Azerbaijani defense ministry’s statement as "a crime."

"I would like to stress that Armenian officials have never mentioned the possibility of attacking Azerbaijan’s civilian infrastructure. We even avoid shelling houses. Our diplomats and politicians are already working on a statement about the possible strike on the Metsamor NPP. Statements of this kind are a crime," Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisyan told reporters.

Border crisis

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the highland region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that had been part of Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union break-up, but primarily populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out in February 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1992-1994, tensions boiled over and exploded into large-scale military action for control over the enclave and seven adjacent territories after Azerbaijan lost control of them. Talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement have been ongoing since 1992 under the OSCE Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs - Russia, France and the United States.

On July 12, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused the Armenian Armed Forces of an attempt to shell the republic’s positions in the border sector of Tovuz (known as Tavush in Armenia). According to the ministry, the attacks continued throughout the night. Baku said 11 Azerbaijani servicemen had been killed since the clashes had begun.

For its part, the Armenian Defense Ministry said four servicemen were killed and 10 injured, adding that border tensions had escalated after an attempted breach from the side of Azerbaijan.

Critically important facilities

Azerbaijan’s Mingachevir water reservoir was built on the Kura River to enable the construction of the Mingachevir Hydroelectric Power Plant. The facility is critical for the country’s power generation sector and agriculture. The security of the Mingachevir dam is among Azerbaijan’s most important national security issues. According to experts, a vast section of the country’s territory will be flooded if the dam breaks.

The Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, the only nuclear power generation facility in Armenia, went onstream in 1979. It was halted in 1989, in the wake of the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake, but resumed its operations in 1995. The plant’s Unit Two, the only active reactor at the station at the moment, accounts for one third of Armenia’s power generation.