Azerbaijan’s partial replacement of troops with border guards likely indicates de-escalatory posture towards Armenia, reducing war risks

20 December 2018

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev (R) gives a present to soldiers during his visit to the military unit at Fizuli district in Baku, Azerbaijan on 12 November 2016. Source: Azerbaijan Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

  • While the Border Guards commander claims that the order reflects their high standard of combat-readiness, IHS Markit assesses that Aliyev's move is likely based on the calculus that, after winning Armenia's recent early general election by a landslide, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has a sufficiently broad mandate to negotiate a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.
  • It represents the most significant de-escalatory measure since the hostilities broke out in April 2016, very likely intended to obtain reciprocal confidence-building measures from Armenia.
  • A reduced frequency of ceasefire violations and the removal of heavy weapons back from the Line of Contact and the border will be among further indicators to be monitored.


Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has ordered that the regular troops deployed on two sections of the state border with Armenia be replaced with border guard personnel.

On 14 December 2018, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree replacing the regular troops deployed along two sections of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border (in Qazakh and Agstafa districts) with border guard units. The commander of the State Border Guard Service, Colonel-General Elcin Guliyev, later commented that this decision was due to the border guards having achieved a high combat readiness level and earning the President's trust in the process. Prior to this, the Azeri border guards only defended the state frontiers with Iran and Russia, which both have friendly relations with Azerbaijan.

Indicators of a tentative thaw

President Aliyev's decision comes against the backdrop of other developments that indicate a moderate improvement in Azeri-Armenian relations. Chief among them is the informal agreement between the two leaders reached on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Dushanbe in September 2018, setting up a direct hotline to mitigate the escalatory risk of incidents at the front line. On 6 November, while Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defence denied that there is any direct communication channel with its Armenian counterpart, it admitted that a designated official from another state agency had been made responsible for manning the phone line.

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