Nagorno-Karabakh: High-ranking Russian commander shot dead

A high-ranking Russian commander has been killed in battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But the Kremlin is holding back on the question of guilt.

A high-ranking Russian commander has been killed in Azerbaijan’s attack on the Armenian-inhabited Nagorno-Karabakh region. This is reported by several Russian state media outlets. A Russian Navy veterans club confirmed the commander’s death on Thursday.

Accordingly, the man is Ivan Kowgan. He was deputy commander of the so-called Russian “peacekeepers” stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh and also deputy chief of the Northern Fleet’s submarine force. Kowgan died three days before his 53rd birthday as a result of a “treacherous bullet,” the Russian media “severpost” quoted officers of the Northern Fleet as saying.

As is usual in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, there is no official confirmation from Moscow. But on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that a vehicle carrying Russian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh came under small arms fire on its way back from an observation post near the village of Janyatag.

Aliyev expresses “deep condolences” to Putin

“As a result of the shelling, the Russian soldiers in the vehicle were killed,” the statement said, without mentioning the number or names of the men killed. Some Russian media spoke of four soldiers killed. The Russian Defense Ministry did not name anyone responsible for the soldiers’ deaths. However, Russia is considered the protecting power of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and was therefore on Azerbaijan’s enemy side.

But Azerbaijan is also keeping a low profile: According to the Kremlin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev apologized on Thursday for the deaths of the Russian soldiers. In a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he expressed his “deep condolences” over the “tragic death of soldiers from the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh on September 20,” the Kremlin said.

The Azerbaijani government in Baku also appears to have initially not accepted any blame for the deaths of the Russian soldiers. Instead, Aliyev promised the Kremlin a detailed explanation. A statement from the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it was working with Russia to investigate the causes of the incident.

“Russia has completely failed as a protecting power for Armenia”

The Russian commander Kovgan was deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh together with other Russian soldiers to fulfill Russia’s responsibility as a so-called protecting power for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In total, the Kremlin has stationed around 2,000 soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor a ceasefire brokered in 2020.

However, Armenia was already doubting its protective power before Azerbaijan’s attack, as Russia had largely remained inactive during the blockade of the Lachin corridor in recent months. Azerbaijan has been blocking the corridor, which is considered the only access road for food and medicine to Nagorno-Karabakh, for months. Here you can read more about it.

Even during Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday and Wednesday, Moscow did not promise military support to the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. The so-called peacekeepers on site apparently helped evacuate Armenians from the surrounded villages, but were not allowed to shoot unless they were attacked themselves.

Since Tuesday, Azerbaijan had attacked Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located on its territory but is predominantly inhabited by Armenians, with rockets and artillery. On Wednesday, the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to a ceasefire. But: It is de facto a surrender, because in their mediation the Russian soldiers on site fully complied with Azerbaijani demands. “Russia has completely failed as a protecting power for Armenia,” says South Caucasus expert Stefan Meister. In an interview with t-online, he explains what is now threatening the local Armenians and what interests Moscow is pursuing.