Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a trilateral meeting in Moscow on January 11 with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan nearly two months after a Russia-brokered cease-fire agreement ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Putin said during talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian that the truce has been successfully implemented, laying the foundation for a fair settlement of the decades-long conflict.
He said the talks would touch upon “matters related to activities of Russian peacekeepers, the need to clarify demarcation lines, resolving humanitarian issues, and the protection of cultural sites.”
Further moves to restore trade and transport links in the region, as well as the opening of borders were on the agenda, according to the Russian leader.
Aliyev in turn called Putin’s invitation for the trilateral meeting “very useful and productive.”
Under the cease-fire agreement reached on November 9, 2020 a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by Armenians. More than 4,700 people were killed in the flare-up of violence.
Around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers are deployed along frontline areas and to protect a land link connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. They are also engaged in demining, returning displaced Armenians, and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.
Many details of the agreement remain unclear, including the final political status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the exact contours of the border separating the two sides along a still militarized frontline, and economic issues.
Armenia is also incensed over an ongoing dispute over prisoners of war and the search for dead and missing persons behind Azerbaijani lines.
Mane Gevorgian, a spokesperson for the Armenian prime minister, said these are “fundamental and crucial” issues.
“It will be extremely difficult to discuss the economic agenda without resolving these issues or making considerable progress [in them],” she wrote on Facebook.
The truce agreement envisages a Russian-guarded transport corridor running through southern Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its enclave of Naxcivan, and thereby to its regional ally Turkey.
Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus region, told RFE/RL in Decemberthat it would be “incredibly difficult” for the Armenians to facilitate the creation of such a corridor through its territory.
Gevorgian said any corridor would not be permanent and that Armenia seeks a transit route for trade with Russia and Iran through Azerbaijan.
The trilateral meeting comes as Prime Minister Pashinian is under mounting opposition pressure over the cease-fire agreement and loss of territory to Azerbaijan in the war.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the region’s population reject Azerbaijani rule.
They had been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region and seven adjacent districts in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
With reporting by dpa, Interfax, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, TASS, and Tagesschau