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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Putin urges 'next steps' after peace

January 11, 2021

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are in Moscow for their first meeting since a Russia-brokered deal ended hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (r), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (second left), Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (far left)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (r), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (second left), and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (far left) discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflictImage: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/dpa/picture alliance

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders on Monday in their first meeting since a peace agreement halted six weeks of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Putin, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev discussed the agreement signed last November. Putin said the peace agreement "created the necessary basis for a long-term and full-format settlement of the old conflict."

Pashinyan and Aliyev did not shake hands at the meeting before sitting down opposite of Putin.

What was the outcome of the meeting?

Putin thanked both Pashinyan and Aliyev for their cooperation during mediation efforts that were aimed at "stopping the bloodshed, stabilizing the situation and achieving a sustainable ceasefire." He said it was time to discuss the "next steps" in the peace agreement.

Pashinyan said Armenia was ready to discuss the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the maintained the exchange of prisoners of war still had to be resolved.

The three countries agreed to set up the first working group meeting on January 30.

What is the Nagorno-Karabakh region?

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is a disputed territory that is in western Azerbaijan, but is under the control of ethnic Armenian forces. Those forces have been supported by Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994. It claimed independence from Azerbaijan following the war, but it is not recognized internationally.

The region saw major fighting again in September 2020 as the Azerbaijani army pushed into the area. More than 6,000 people were killed in the six weeks of battle.

The peace agreement that followed saw Armenia cede territory back to Azerbaijan. Under the deal, Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeeping troops to the region. They will remain in the area for at least five years. Putin said the "next steps" in the agreement should look into demarcation lines and humanitarian issues.

How did the peace agreement affect the region?

A Russian-brokered ceasefire in November stopped the conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces, but tensions remain with occasional fighting. Both sides continue to hold prisoners of war and there have been disagreements about a potential transportation corridor in the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh: A new reality

Pashinyan said the issue surrounding the prisoners of war was not resolved during Monday's meeting.

The ceasefire sparked mass protests in Armenia against Pashinyan, demanding his resignation. Protesters have claimed he mishandled the conflict, but he defended the deal as a necessary move that prevented a full Azerbaijani takeover.

Aliyev has said the conflict was a historic righting of wrongs, which Armenia has rejected.

What is the international influence in the region?

Azerbaijan has been supported by Turkey. Both countries shut their borders with Armenia since the 2020 conflict began. The blockade has weakened the economy of the landlocked country.

Dmitry Trenin, a political analyst for the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the talks would allow the Kremlin to reaffirm its influence in the region.

"(The) peacekeeping function is Moscow's advantage in its competitive relationship with Ankara," Trenin tweeted on Sunday.

kbd/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)