Russia brokers Karabakh ceasefire, EU voices ‘extreme concern’ over breaches

Azerbaijan rescuers carry a body of a local resident killed by recent shelling in Ganja, Azerbaijan, 11 October 2020. [Aziz Karimov/EPA/EFE]

The EU diplomatic chief on Sunday (11 October) expressed his deep concern over reports of violations of a Russia-brokered ceasefire between warring neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“We note with extreme concern the reports of continued military activities, including against civilian targets, as well as civilian casualties,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The Russian-brokered ceasefire, clinched after marathon talks at the level of foreign ministers in Moscow on Saturday (10 October), was meant to halt fighting to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri forces to swap prisoners and war dead.

The talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two since fighting over the mountainous enclave erupted on 27 September, killing hundreds of people. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians. Ethnic cleansing has been conducted after Armenian forces seized the territory in 1993.

The EU’s 27 member states “urge the sides to ensure full respect of the agreement on the ground,” Borrell said.

The EU foreign affairs chief pushed the sides “to engage in substantive negotiations without delay under the auspices of the so-called “Minsk Group”.

This is a process that France, Russia and the US have led for decades to forge a lasting solution to the Karabakh conflict, but without success.

Borrell welcomed the ceasefire and called on all sides to “strictly abide” by it.

But Armenia and Azerbaijan accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately. Azerbaijan, making the first claim of an attack since the truce, said on Sunday it had carried out airstrikes against an ethnic Armenian regiment, inflicting heavy losses.

Earlier on Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building. The Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office said nine people had been killed and 34 wounded in the attack.

The Armenian defence ministry called the Azeri allegations about the attack on Ganja “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas inside Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of also launching an unsuccessful rocket attack on an Azeri hydro-electric power station in Mingachevir. Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh denied the assertion.

In a television interview for the Russian TV RBK, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made it clear that his country’s army had recovered vast territories which it would keep and re-populate with persons displaced during the conflict of the 1990s. He said he would soon visit these territories.

Aiiyev said at the request of his country the ceasefire included the provision that “substantial talks” between Azerbaijan and Armenia would begin, and that the Minsk group format would be preserved.

Armenia has asked the format to be extended to the authorities of the internationally uncercognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic, but Aliyev made it clear this was a no-go.

The President of Azerbaijan denied Turkey was military backing Azerbaijan, but spoke highly of the bilateral relations and hinted that the negotiations format should include a powerful international player such as Turkey.

Aliyev also deplored what he described as an anti-Azeri campaign in Russian media, which he said was in contradiction with the traditionally good relations between the two countries. Russia has an economic and a defence pact with Armenia.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on Sunday to press Armenia to abide by the terms of the truce, Turkey’s foreign ministry said. Also, Turkey’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the Armenian missile attack on Ganja.

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