Talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan yielded nothing after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered their first meeting in nine months following the deadliest clashes between the ex-Soviet republics in 20 years.
The meeting between the Azeri and Armenian leaders, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan, was “useful,” with both presidents reaffirming their commitment to “seeking a solution exclusively on the basis of a peaceful approach,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Two days of talks at the Russian leader’s retreat were marked by another fatality on the frontlines of the disputed border region of Nagorno-Karabakh, with an Azeri soldier killed last night by Armenian fire, according to the Defense Ministry in Baku. That brought the death toll to 24 since July 26.
The clashes are threatening to ignite another conflict on Russia’s doorstep as the worst geopolitical standoff since the Cold War continues over Ukraine. The southern Caucasus countries, which border Turkey and Iran, signed a cease-fire brokered by Russia in 1994 after more than 30,000 people were killed and over a 1.2 million displaced.
Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts from Azerbaijan in a war after the Soviet breakup in 1991. The truce left 20,000 Armenian and Azeri troops, dug into World War I-style trenches sometimes only 100 meters (330 feet) apart, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The conflict is part of the region’s “Soviet legacy,” Putin said as he opened negotiations today. “We must show patience, wisdom and respect for each other to find a solution.”
The Azeri and Armenian leaders traded accusations in Putin’s presence today, blaming each other for violating international agreements on Karabakh. Still, both presidents said they support a peaceful solution to the conflict and praised Putin for his mediation efforts.
“Any conflict can be solved if there is good will,” Putin said. “I think there is such a good will from Azerbaijan’s people and from the Armenian people.”