By David M. Herszenhorn
MOSCOW — Russian fighter jets are conducting an increasing number of training flights over Armenia, a military spokesman said on Saturday, sending a clear warning that Russia could intervene at any moment should violence escalate further in the territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The military spokesman, Colonel Igor Gorbul, told the Interfax news agency that Russian fight jets stationed at a base in Armenia have conducted about 300 training flights since the beginning of 2012, and have increased the number of flying hours by more than 20 percent from last year.
Violence has flared recently along the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republics, which have been at war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for more than 20 years. At least eight soldiers –five Azerbaijanis and three Armenians — were killed in clashes along the border last week.
Russia, along with France, the United States and other countries, have repeatedly urged a peaceful settlement to the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia maintains a military base in Armenia and regularly sells weapons to Armenia.
Colonel Gorbul said Russian fighter pilots were preparing for combat. “The main emphasis in performing aerobatic elements is made on the ability to apply them in real-life air combat conditions,” he said.
The Russian foreign ministry last week said it regarded the border clashes as “unacceptable” and would continue to try to broker a peaceful settlement.
Azerbaijan, which currently holds a seat on the United Nations Security Council, said that it was also appealing to the United Nations for help in hopes that international mediators could help reach a settlement this year.