High-Ranking Russian Delegation Visits Yerevan, Baku
By RFE/RL November 21, 2020
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met in Yerevan with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on November 21 to discuss the implementation of a Russian-brokered truce in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinian's office quoted the Armenian prime minister as saying during the meeting that Armenians had "always felt support of Russia" during the war -- including the personal "support" of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
Shoigu told Pashinian that Russian peacekeepers deployed to monitor the truce have "covered almost the entire territory" of Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the truce was signed on November 10.
"A total of 23 [security] posts have been deployed," Shoigu told Pashinian. "We're monitoring the road to Stepanakert," the mostly ethnic-Armenian populated main city of Nagorno-Karabakh that is known in the Azeri language as Xankandi.
Shoigu also said Russian troops were "ensuring the return of refugees," adding that "peaceful life has already been established."
"Our main task is preventing the bloodshed," Shoigu told Pashinian.
After meeting with Armenian officials in Yerevan, the high-ranking Russian government delegation traveled to Baku for meetings with Azerbaijani officials on November 21.
In his meeting with the delegation, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev emphasized the "personal role" Putin played, saying: "He took an active and effective part in the preparation of the text of the agreement" and its successful implementation "largely depends" on the fact that Putin signed it.
Lavrov praised Azerbaijan's support for the joint statement, adding that Russia hopes that the cochairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has led the political process to reach a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for many years, will take part in the resolution of issues based on the agreement.
"As you have repeatedly said, as President Putin said, this work is always in line with the principles that form the basis of the OSCE Minsk Group," Lavrov said.
Russia, the United States, and France are the cochairs of the Minsk Group.
In addition to Lavrov and Shoigu, the delegation includes Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Overchuk, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, the head of the Russian Federal Service for Health and Consumer Rights, Anna Popova, and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak.
Novak's areas of responsibility include the oil and natural gas industry.
The visits by the Russian delegation come a day after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced that his troops had retaken control of the Azerbaijani district of Agdam to the northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh under the terms of the truce.
Agdam is one of seven Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh that was occupied by ethnic Armenian separatists who fought against Azerbaijani forces during the early 1990s.
The Russian-brokered cease-fire calls for all seven Azerbaijani districts to be under Baku's control, as well as parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that were recaptured by Azerbaijani forces since fighting broke out again on September 27.
Four of the occupied Azerbaijani districts were recaptured by Azerbaijani forces in the recent six-week war.
Territory recently recaptured by Azerbaijan's military also includes Nagorno-Karabakh's strategic mountain fortress city of Susa, which is known as Shushi in Armenian.
The return to Azerbaijan of Agdam and two other districts still under Armenian control was spelled out in the November 10 truce.
The mountainous district of Kalbacar, known as Karvachar in Armenian, is due to be handed over to Azerbaijani forces by November 25.
The truce also calls for territory still under Armenian control in the district of Lachin to be returned to Azerbaijan by December 1.
However, Russian peacekeepers will monitor a 5-kilometer-wide transport corridor through the Lachin district that is meant to link Armenia with Stepanakert/Xankandi.
The chief of staff of the Russian peacekeeping taskforce in Nagorno-Karabakh said on November 20 that the handover of Agdam was carried out without incident.
Azerbaijani troops moved into Agdam a day after columns of Armenian soldiers and tanks rolled out of the territory.
It also came a day after Pashinian fired Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan.
Tonoyan, who had held the position since May 2018, was replaced by Vagharshak Harutunian.
Armenian villagers in Agdam were given just days to leave their homes, scrambling to pack their belongings into vehicles and emptying homes before setting structures on fire.
It was the latest exodus of Armenians from occupied districts of Azerbaijan as Baku reasserts its control.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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