Azerbaijan Ends Military Attack on Armenians as Putin Weighs In

Azerbaijan halted military operations in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region after Armenians in the territory said they’d agreed to disband their forces following an intervention by Russia.

(Bloomberg) — Azerbaijan halted military operations in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region after Armenians in the territory said they’d agreed to disband their forces following an intervention by Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in St. Petersburg that the Kremlin is “in very close contact with all parties to the conflict” in its former backyard. “I hope that we will be able to achieve de-escalation and move the solution to this problem in a peaceful direction,” Putin said.

The Defense Ministry in Baku and Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said in separate statements they’d reached an agreement on a truce after mediation by Russian forces deployed in the region. 

Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to “completely disarm” its defense forces, and officials from the two sides will meet for talks Thursday on “reintegration” of the region into Azerbaijan more than three decades after its majority Armenian population declared independence as the Soviet Union collapsed.

The rapid conclusion to the fighting came after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had rejected US and European demands to end his military campaign to take full control of the territory, vowing to continue the “anti-terrorist operation” that began Tuesday until Armenians surrendered.

The deal marks a new and potentially decisive phase in one of the world’s most intractable territorial disputes that has erupted repeatedly into violence, killing tens of thousands of people and turning more than 1 million into refugees as relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan ruptured. Armenian officials said at least 32 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the latest clashes.

Bonds issued by Armenia and Azerbaijan gained after the announcement that military operations were suspended.

The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh was the catalyst for independence protests in both countries that helped bring down the Soviet Union. The struggle for control of the territory, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, meant that Armenia and Azerbaijan still don’t have an agreed border more than 30 years after independence.

Azerbaijan took part of the region and seven surrounding districts in a 2020 war with Armenia that killed thousands before Putin negotiated a truce. Russia deployed almost 2,000 troops to Nagorno-Karabakh to maintain peace under the agreement.

The military contingent helped mediate Wednesday’s truce, according to the statements from Azerbaijan and the office of Nagorno-Karabakh President Samvel Shahramanyan.

The two sides said all heavy weapons belonging to the Nagorno-Karabakh army would be removed from the region and military units from neighboring Armenia would also be withdrawn from the territory.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denied that any of his country’s forces have been in Nagorno-Karabakh since August 2021. Armenia wasn’t involved in the cease-fire agreement, and he expected the Russian forces that negotiated it to ensure the security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinyan said.

Officials from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan will meet in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh Thursday for talks, including on protecting the rights and security of the Armenian population “within the framework of the Constitution of Azerbaijan,” according to the agreement.

The US, France, Germany and the European Union had all called on Azerbaijan to halt its attack and return to negotiations to resolve the conflict. 

Turkey, which has a defense pact with Azerbaijan, had backed its ally’s offensive. “Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s territory,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. “We support the steps taken by Azerbaijan to protect its territorial integrity.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said preparations are being made for a phone call between Putin and Pashinyan. No call is planned yet with Aliyev, though Russia is in contact with Azerbaijan, he said. 

Pashinyan had accused Baku of seeking to provoke Armenia into a “military escalation” and said the country wouldn’t be drawn into the fighting despite “emotional” pressures to support the people in Nagorno-Karabakh.

His government is facing growing pressure in the capital, Yerevan, where large-scale protests broke out demanding Pashinyan’s resignation and accusing Russia of failing to support Armenia, with which it has a mutual-defense pact. 

Armenia is host to Russia’s only foreign military base in the Caucasus but relations with Moscow have soured recently as Pashinyan has nurtured deeper ties with the US and the EU.

–With assistance from Sara Khojoyan.

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