Russian aid truck arrives in Karabakh from Azerbaijan – authorities

By Felix Light and Nailia Bagirova

TBILISI (Reuters) -A Russian Red Cross truck crossed from Azerbaijani-held territory into the ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region on Tuesday, the first time in 35 years that the breakaway area had allowed such access.

The local authority said the truck had reached the territory’s capital, Stepanakert, carrying blankets, toiletries and 1,000 food parcels.

The mission brings some relief to residents cut off from supplies since the only alternative route has been effectively blocked by Azerbaijan, other than for medical evacuations.

But Armenian state media quoted a local Armenian mayor as saying some residents had initially protested before letting the truck proceed, a reflection of concerns about ceding control to Azerbaijan.

Although internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, Karabakh broke from Baku’s hold in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed, and for decades survived with direct support from Armenia thanks to control of a land link, the Lachin corridor.

But in a second war in 2020, Azerbaijan reconquered territory in and around the mountainous region and Armenia lost control of the corridor, leaving the road policed by Russian peacekeepers until it was blocked last December.

The truck’s arrival, agreed by Karabakh authorities on Saturday amid acute shortages of food, fuel, and medicine, fulfils a key demand from Baku by reopening a transport link into Azerbaijani-held territory that had been closed since 1988.

A Reuters correspondent saw the truck set off after being held up for several days in the Azerbaijani city of Barda, and the Armenian news agency Armenpress published a photo of the vehicle in Stepanakert.

It was not immediately clear whether Azerbaijan had also allowed aid to enter from Armenia through the Lachin corridor, as promised in the agreement struck on Saturday. French and Armenian aid shipments have been idling at the corridor’s entrance for several weeks.

In a statement on Tuesday, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that the aid shipment was “a positive step”, and that it had agreed that the two roads could be used “simultaneously”. It also said that the Karabakh separatist authorities were “preventing the implementation of this agreement”.

Azerbaijan has said it intends to maintain its checkpoint on the Lachin road – something that has also severely strained relations between Armenia and Russia, which Yerevan has long looked to for its security needs.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the shipment of aid from Moscow represented “a first step” to solving the crisis, and that it expected that the Lachin corridor would be unblocked “in the near future”.

(Reporting by Felix Light in Tbilisi and Nailia Bagirova; Editing by Edmund Klamann, Kevin Liffey and Nick Macfie)