The leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia yesterday (20 June) agreed at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to bolster the number of monitors in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh in a bid to shore up a shaky ceasefire.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev met key regional power broker Putin in Saint Petersburg after the worst violence in decades over the contested territory.
Fighting along the volatile frontline of the territory – seized by ethnic-Armenians from Azerbaijan in a brutal war in the early 1990s – spiralled in early April, killing at least 110 people.
A Russian-brokered ceasefire put an end to four days of heavy clashes but tensions remain high as both sides accuse the other of breaching the pact.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the two sides said they had “agreed in particular to increase the number of international observers in the conflict zone” in order to help strengthen the halt in hostilities, Russian news agencies reported.
At present there are only six unarmed observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deployed in the region to monitor the situation.
The statement did not give any indication of the target number of monitors or a timeframe for when they would be deployed.
April’s violence was the bloodiest since an inconclusive truce in 1994 halted the earlier conflict and sparked fears of a return to an all-out war that could pitch regional titans Russia and Turkey against each other.
In separate meetings with Putin ahead of a sit-down involving all three, both of the leaders blamed each other for the violence.
“Our position on Karabakh is well known: we want this issue to be resolved exclusively peacefully,” Sargsyan told Putin.
“Unfortunately such conflicts cannot be resolved just through the desire of one side.”
Meanwhile, Aliyev shot back that the “status quo is unacceptable” as he sat down with Putin.
“In order to change the status quo, we need to end the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories,” he said.
Moscow has sold weapons to both of the former Soviet nations but has a military alliance with Armenia.
Turkey – at loggerheads with Moscow since Ankara downed a Russian jet near its border with Syria last year – pledged its full support to traditional ally Azerbaijan after the latest clashes erupted.
Sargsyan and Aliyev agreed to respect the Russian-backed ceasefire in a Vienna meeting with international mediators – including representatives from Russia, the United States and France – in mid-May.
After the 1990s war claimed some 30,000 lives, peace efforts have stuttered to a halt in recent years, and both sides in the conflict began rearming heavily, with energy-rich Azerbaijan spending vast sums on new weaponry.
Azerbaijan last week announced five days of major military exercises starting on Sunday near the breakaway region including some 25,000 servicemen and 300 tanks.