Russia has urged Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to respect a ceasefire over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, as deadly clashes continued days after they agreed to a “humanitarian truce” to exchange prisoners and the bodies of fallen soldiers.
About 500 people have been killed in two weeks of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway province of Azerbaijan that has been run by its ethnic Armenian majority since a war in the 1990s that claimed some 30,000 lives.
Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to observe a Moscow-brokered truce from noon on Saturday, but its failure to take hold has dashed faint peace hopes and thrown doubt on Russia’s ability to influence the conflict, as Turkey offers full support to its Azeri allies and gains leverage in the strategic south Caucasus.
“We see that so far this agreement is not being fully observed and hostilities continue,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday as he met his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in Moscow.
“We expect that the decisions that were adopted will be rigorously implemented by both sides,” he added.
Armenia and Azerbaijan both insist they are abiding by the ceasefire agreement and accuse the other of breaking it, just as they blame each other for starting the deadliest escalation in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh in more than 25 years.
The European Union has called for a swift cessation of hostilities and warned that the clashes could develop into a regional conflict.
Russia has sought to maintain good relations with Baku and Yerevan and sells weapons to both ex-Soviet states. It has a military base in mostly Christian Armenia, however, and an obligation to defend it from foreign aggression as a fellow member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).
“We have allied relations, and treaty obligations bilaterally and through the CSTO. Everything will be used as it should be used, if necessary,” said Mr Mnatsakanyan.
Turkey pledges unequivocal support to majority Muslim Azerbaijan and echoes its calls for Armenian forces to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ankara has been accused by Armenia, Russia and France of helping pro-Turkish fighters travel from Syria to bolster the ranks of Azerbaijan’s army. Turkey denies the claims, but risks finding itself at odds with Moscow in the South Caucasus, at a time when they also back opposing sides in Syria and Libya.
Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev insisted again on Monday that Turkey must play a key role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, alongside current chief mediators Russia, the US and France – all of which, he noted, have large Armenian diaspora communities.
Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar told his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu by telephone that Armenian forces should leave “occupied” Nagorno-Karabakh and that Azerbaijan “cannot wait another 30 years for a solution” to the dispute.