Russia turned Ukraine and Azerbaijan into the most mined countries

As a result of the full-scale Russian aggression, Ukraine became the most mined country in the world.

Out of all friendly states, only Azerbaijan faces a similar magnitude of this problem.

Judging by international reports, mining of Karabakh territories continues under the cover of military contingents of the Russian Federation. The experience Baku has in countering this threat, in the international arena and in the legal field alike could be useful for Kyiv.

“TodayUkraine entered the list of the most mined countries in the world:30% of its territory still remains potentially dangerous,stated Ukrainian expert, head of the State of Emergency Service, Sergyi Kruk on April 20 2023.

“Ukraine is the largest mined territory in the world,” according to a report by international think tank GLOBSEC  published on April 26. 

“Ukraine turned into one of the largest minefields in the world,” the UNDP reported on April 4. The report said thatover 14 million people” are now present in the mine impact risk area.

Given the magnitude of potentially mined territory, the situation in Ukraine is unprecedented.The only country that has been suffering from the same problem, which is a friend of Ukraine, is Azerbaijan.As noted by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan is on the list of most mine-contaminated countries in the world .  

Apparently, the unity of this threat is no coincidence. Both states oppose pro-Russian separatism: Ukraine does in Donbass, Azerbaijan – in Karabakh. Ukraine is Europe’s bastion on the way to Moscow’s aggressive expansion, while Azerbaijan acts as the main supplier of energy resources into the EU, compensating for the rejection of Russian gas supplies.

Taking into account the humanitarian help provided to Ukraine by Azerbaijan, the experience of Baku with the mine threat could be useful for Kyiv not only in terms of mine-clearance. It’s been three years since Azerbaijan’s authorities were raising the question in international organizations, appealing to the international community and defending the interests of countries subjected to this threat.

At the UN Human Rights Council Session in September 2021, Israfilov, the representative of Azerbaijan pointed out the importance of an effective anti-mine action and the role of  international assistance to states…,which were most affected by mines and other unexploded devices”. In April 2023, Aliyev proposed to make the humanitarian demining the United Nations sustainable development goal 18”. He announced that Azerbaijan also came up with a proposal to create a group of like-minded countries, which were exposed to mines” .

Having appealed to the International Court of Justice tostop the killing and mutilation of Azerbaijanis on ethnic and national basis with explosive devices”,Baku has gained rich experience of legal combating in this regardthroughout 2021-2023.This is all the more important given thestatementmade by the president of Ukraine Volodymyr ZelenskyyI am certain that landmine terror is going to be among the points of accusation against Russia for aggression”.

By the way, Azerbaijan characterizes this threat using the same terms: a month ago the representative of the republic Yashar Aliyev pointed out in his address to the UN Secretary GeneralArmenia must stop the landmine terror”.

Ukraine-Azerbaijan: similarity of the mine threat

According to Head of Ukraine’s Ministry for Defense, Oleksii Reznikov, it could take around 30 years to completely clear the country of explosive devices”. The same period is mentioned by the president of Azerbaijan for demining of his country.

Also, the two countries will require similar sums of money for demining.

“The World Bank estimates that the demining will cost Ukraine $37.4 billion,specified Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on April 5 2023. According to last year’s UNDP report , however, Azerbaijan will require $37.3 billion for the same purpose.

Tens and hundreds of people are being blown up by mines in both countries: Since the beginning of the Russian invasion mines have killed 124 people in Ukraine, including six children, while “300 citizens of Azerbaijan died or were severely injured, including nine children and teenagers, as a result of mine terrorism of Armenia.”

The unifying character of the mine threat was amply demonstrated by the tragic events in Ukraine at the end of April.

On April 27 2023 a crew of power engineers were blown up by a mine. One person died, four were injured. On the next day a crew of Azerbaijani aerial photographers were blown up – three were killed.

On May 1 a civilian blew up by an unknown explosive device in Izum district of Kharkiv region. He was seriously injured. On the same day a villager died as a result of a mine explosion  in Djebrail district of Karabakh.

‘Traps’ for Ukrainians and Azerbaijanis

“There is confirmed data regarding the fact that the Russian troops had been laying trap-mines and homemade explosive devices in Ukraine since February of 2022 in many areas before pulling out and abandoning their positions,” according to the November report by a group of international organizations, Landmine Monitor 2022.

Since the very beginning of the aggression the Russian troops “have been using anti-personnel mines multiple times in various areas of Ukraine, including trap-mines triggered by the victim themselves,” according to the January report by Human Rights Watch.

“The Russian troops are notorious for their inventiveness in leaving trap-mines: they attach victim-activated devices to animals, dead bodies as well as lay double and even triple trap-mines on roads, in fields and forests,” GLOBSEC explained on April 26.

In February, ANAMA, the Azerbaijan State agency for demining, reported the discovery of a mined mass-grave in Karabakh. 

“Armenia anticipated that this mass grave would be discovered and mined the terrain in order to kill the people looking for the remains of their relatives. This method is typical for war crimes in Armenia. Even ordinary cemeteries on liberated areas are mined,” the announcement said

In the August-November period of last year, a large number of trap-mines was discovered in localities of the Lachin district of Azerbaijan, which Armenian troops left without a fight in December of 2020, after 30 years of occupation. Before withdrawing they had laid trap-mines under the floor of porches, behind doors and in yards of residential houses – the same way the Russian aggressors had done before abandoning Bucha, Irpin and other localities of the Kyiv region.

Sowing of death goes on

The aggressor troops continue to stuff the occupied Ukrainian land with deadly “seeds”.

In Karabakh, whose part is still under the control of the Russian Federation military personnel, there is a similar situation. Even though in autumn of 2020 Azerbaijan managed to liberate the main part of the sovereign territory as a result of the second Karabakh War, the Armenian side continues laying mines on this land under the cover of Russia’s military presence.

In August-November of last year around 3000 mines were foundin Lachin,Kelbajan and Shusha regions of Karabakh. Most had labels with production year 2021, made in Armenia.

The purpose of the ongoing mine laying is to prevent the return of Azerbaijanis to the liberated territories (as mentioned in the UN general Assembly resolution in March 1994. The aggression against the Azerbaijani population in Karabakh forced more than a million people to leave their houses.

As Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov indicated in his letter to the UN Secretary General on November 28 2022, “Not only does Armenia refuse to provide complete and accurate information about the minefields, but, on the contrary, it illegally transports new mines into Azerbaijan and lays them en masse.”

This document was accompanied by documentary evidence that thousands of recently discovered mines were produced in Armenia in 2021, that is, after official Yerevan signed up to the commitment of “complete ceasefire and all the military action in the area of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict”, following the results of the second Karabakh war.

On April 17, in an interview with international channel RTVI, comparing the situation with the mining in Ukraine and Karabakh, the expert of the Standing Committee on Defence and National Security of the parliament of Armenia, Artzrun Ovannisyan stated that Ukrainians could allegedly be mining their land themselves. He said that Ukrainians would actually earn on mine-clearance of arable lands, that they are funded by the West, whereas pro-Armenian separatists are not funded by anyone. He also said that Ukraine ought to “thank” Russia for that.

(Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine)

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.