Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan on Monday to try to broker a solution to a long-standing conflict between the two former Soviet neighbors.
The peace talks took place as Putin’s army launched a new missile barrage against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure in the conflict that entered its ninth month.
In an initial meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Putin said the goals would be to ensure peace and stability and unlock transport infrastructure to aid Armenia’s economic and social development. He also held a separate meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev before the three-party summit.
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Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decade-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of Armenian-backed ethnic forces since a separatist war ended in 1994.
“We see our colleagues’ approaches to what is happening at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and around Karabakh,” Putin said Monday. “This conflict has been going on for a decade, so we still have to put an end to it.”
Putin’s talks with Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are about implementing a Russia-brokered 2020 peace deal. During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan claimed large swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories that the Armenian forces held for decades. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting. Moscow has deployed around 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
Pashinyan said on Monday that he will press for Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops from the Russian peacekeeping zone in Nagorno-Karabakh and seek freedom for Armenian prisoners of war. An extension of the Russian peacekeeping mandate was also under discussion, Russian state news agencies reported.
A new wave of hostilities erupted in September, when more than 200 soldiers were killed on both sides. Armenia and Azerbaijan have exchanged the blame for triggering the fighting.
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Russia is Armenia’s main ally and sponsor. In a delicate act of balancing, it maintains a military base in Armenia but has also developed cordial ties with Azerbaijan.
In an apparent reflection of tensions with the Armenian leadership, Putin noted last Thursday that the Kremlin had advised the Pashinyan government ahead of the 2020 hostilities to agree to a compromise whereby the Armenian forces would give up Azerbaijani lands outside the country. Nagorno-Karabakh which they had kidnapped in the early 1990s. Putin complained that “the Armenian leadership has taken a different path”.
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During the 2020 fighting, Azerbaijan claimed not only those territories, but also significant portions of Nagorno-Karabakh proper.