The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to come to Moscow on Friday to discuss a ceasefire, the Russian government announced. Russia has been mediating in the conflict between the two former Soviet republics over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave for years.
Fear of a major war
“Baku and Yerevan have confirmed their participation,” Maria Zakharova, spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told news agency Friday morning. AFP.
The two warring parties did so after an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Putin is pushing for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, including so that Armenia and Azerbaijan can exchange prisoners of war and the bodies of fallen soldiers.
International observers believe that the current conflict has claimed at least 400 lives, including dozens of civilians. According to Armenia, 350 Armenian soldiers have been killed. Azerbaijan has not yet confirmed any fallen soldiers on its side.
The Russian offer to mediate followed a first attempt by France, Russia and the US to organize peace talks in Geneva. This happened under the umbrella of the so-called Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). However, Armenia refused to participate as long as there was still fighting.
The search for a ceasefire is made more difficult by the influence of Turkey, which wholeheartedly supports Azerbaijan, which is also Muslim. Russia and France argue that Turkey has sent fighters from Northern Syria to Azerbaijan to join the fight.
Turkish interference is fueling international fear that the conflict will turn into a full-fledged war, in which Turkey and Russia will also face each other. Moscow is anxiously trying to remain neutral in the conflict between the two former Soviet republics, but the question is how long that can be maintained. Russia has an air base in Armenia and a military defense treaty with that country.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in heavy fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave since last month. The area lies entirely within the internationally recognized Azerbaijani borders, but has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population and, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, declared independence as the Republic of Artsakh.
This led to a war that ended in a ceasefire in 1994. It never came to a permanent peace agreement. Since then there have been regular skirmishes. The current fighting, which started at the end of September, is the fiercest since the war.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused the opponent of artillery fire on civilian targets. Tens of thousands of civilians on both sides have since fled the violence.