Killing Ends in Caucasus Conflict as Russia Bolsters Truce Push

  • Russia mediated Azeri, Armenian talks to halt clashes
  • Truce follows worst clashes in 20 years over Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenians and Azeris said that they are maintaining a cease-fire as it emerged that Russia played a key part in the effort to halt the fiercest fighting in two decades over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The truce was thrashed out at talks in Moscow on Tuesday between the Armenian and Azeri chiefs of general staff, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said at a government meeting on Wednesday. The meeting took place with “the mediation of the Russian side,” the Azeri Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Russia “played a serious role in this matter so that the firing was stopped,” Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan told reporters in the capital, Yerevan, the Interfax news service reported Wednesday.

The cease-fire from noon Tuesday ended nearly five days of spiralling violence over the Armenian-held enclave in Azerbaijan as the largest loss of life since a Russian-brokered truce 22 years ago prompted a flurry of international diplomacy. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan warned on Monday that escalation in the conflict could trigger a “full-scale war,” threatening to destabilize a region flanked by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Fighting between Armenia, a Russian ally, and Azerbaijan, which has stronger ties to NATO member Turkey, would also potentially disrupt a new energy corridor between central Asia and Europe.

Killed, Wounded

Azerbaijan said 31 of its servicemen and four civilians died in the clashes that first broke out April 1. Nagorno-Karabakh said that 31 Armenian soldiers were killed, 26 are missing and 101 were wounded, while 11 civilians also died.

BP Plc said Wednesday that the fighting didn’t affect operations at its oil pipeline that carried 720,000 barrels per day from Baku to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan last year.

Azerbaijan is “seriously” observing the truce and isn’t responding to Armenian mortar attacks that are continuing, the Defense Ministry in Baku said on its website. Armenian forces are respecting the cease-fire and “there’s no reason for us to break the truce,” Senor Hasratyan, spokesman for the Defense Ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is not internationally recognized, said by phone Wednesday.

‘Major Efforts’

Russia is “exerting major efforts” to stabilize the situation so that “the cease-fire holds and negotiations resume,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will go to Baku on Wednesday for talks with his Azeri and Iranian counterparts, and will visit Yerevan on April 21 and 22 to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh, she said.

“It’s of great importance that the conflict is resolved as quickly as possible,” and Germany will offer “constructive help,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with Sargysan in Berlin on Wednesday. There’s been “very little progress” in recent years and the conflict “isn’t easy to resolve merely with a visit or a new effort,” she said.

Azerbaijan rejected confidence-building measures and “‘initiated a large-scale armed attack against Nagorno-Karabakh and its civilians,” who want the “international community to accept their right to live in peace on their land,” Sargsyan said. He also met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who’s chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mediators Visit

“Every time an opportunity emerges to move the settlement process forward, Armenia carries out a provocation,” Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Wednesday at a meeting in Baku with representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Aliyev held talks Wednesday with U.S., Russian and French OSCE mediators, who will travel to Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday, the APA news service reported.

The OSCE representatives will visit Armenia on Saturday for meetings with Sargsyan and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan, the Armenian Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said on Twitter.

Lavrov will have talks with Nalbandyan in Moscow on Friday, Zakharova said. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will also travel to Yerevan on Thursday and Baku on Friday, the RIA Novosti news service reported.

Armenia will be responsible if clashes with Azerbaijan continue, while Russia’s “the most important party” in the conflict, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told officials in Ankara on Wednesday. Russia “likes to be a party” as seen in the conflicts in Ukraine, Georgia and Syria, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Sargsyan and Aliyev on Tuesday to urge a complete halt to the hostilities, according to a Kremlin statement.

Despite tensions between them, “both Turkey and Russia have vested interests in seeing peace return to the Caucasus not least because of all the oil and gas flowing through diverse pipelines” Simon Quijano-Evans, chief emerging markets strategist at Commerzbank AG in London, said in an e-mailed note.

The conflict dates back to the dying days of the Soviet Union, when a dispute over the territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared into a war that killed 30,000 and created a million refugees. Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan in the 1991-1994 conflict.

OSCE mediators have failed to negotiate a lasting peace since then. Armenia says the enclave’s Christian Armenians, who declared independence from largely-Muslim Azerbaijan in 1991, have the right to self-determination. Azerbaijan demands respect for its territorial integrity.

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