Armenia and Azerbaijan agree to ceasefire after talks in Moscow
Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a ceasefire to exchange prisoners and bodies of those killed in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Russia’s Foreign Minister says.
- If the truce holds, it would be seen as a major diplomatic victory for Russia
- Few details of the ceasefire have emerged but a mediator has been nominated
- The latest round of fighting has sparked concerns about the security of pipelines that supply oil and gas to Europe
It comes after the first diplomatic contact between the enemies since fighting over the breakaway enclave erupted on September 27, killing hundreds of people.
The ceasefire begins at 12:00pm Saturday (local time).
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the breakthrough after a 10-hour meeting with his Armenian and Azeri counterparts in Moscow.
He also said Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to start talks on the settlement of the conflict.
No further details on the talks have been released, but Mr Lavrov said the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group would mediate.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov did not speak to reporters.
The talks between the foreign ministers were held on invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who brokered the ceasefire in a series of calls with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Hundreds dead after worst clashes in decades
If the truce holds, it would mark a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but has also cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan.
Speaking in an address to the nation hours before the ceasefire deal was reached, the Azerbaijani President insisted on his country’s right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international talks that “haven’t yielded an inch of progress”.
“Mediators and leaders of some international organisations have stated that there is no military solution to the conflict,” Mr Aliyev said.
“I have disagreed with the thesis, and I have been right. The conflict is now being settled by military means and political means will come next.”
Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but broke away in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed and has been populated and governed by ethnic Armenians since the end of a separatist war in 1994.
The renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
The clashes have also increased concern about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
The fighting is the worst since a 1991–94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
Azerbaijan said on Friday that 31 Azeri civilians had been killed and 168 wounded in the latest round of deadly clashes. It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh said 376 of its military personnel and 22 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the conflict.
Regional powers increasingly involved in latest fighting
The current escalation marked the first time that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey took a high profile in the conflict, offering strong political support.
Over the past few years, Turkey has provided Azerbaijan with state-of-the-art weapons, including drones and rocket systems that helped the Azerbaijani military outgun the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist forces in the latest fighting.
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Armenian officials say Turkey has been involved in the conflict and has been sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side.
Turkey has denied deploying combatants to the region, but a Syrian war monitor and three Syria-based opposition activists have confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an interview with CNN Arabic, Azerbaijan’s President admitted that Turkish F-16 fighter jets have stayed on in Azerbaijan weeks after a joint military exercise, but insisted that they have remained grounded.
Armenian officials had earlier claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian warplane, a claim that both Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied.
Turkey’s high profile in the conflict worried Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and a security treaty with the country obliging Moscow to offer support to its ally if it comes under aggression.
At the same time, Russia has sought to maintain strong economic and political ties with oil-rich Azerbaijan and ward off Turkey’s attempt to increase its influence in the South Caucasus, without ruining its delicate relations with Ankara.