After two days of talks with U.S. officials, each side committed to upholding the cease-fire agreed to in Moscow on Oct. 10, according to the State Department. That earlier truce followed 11 hours of negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but Armenia and Azerbaijan then almost immediately accused each other of violating the deal.
The agreement announced Sunday is the third attempt at a cease-fire: On Oct. 17, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to uphold the truce reached a week earlier in Moscow, but then again accused each other of violations within a day.
A statement issued Sunday by the Minsk Group — which comprises Russia, France and the United States and participated as a group in the most recent talks — said it “urged” a return to the initial cease-fire. But it reported no agreement, saying only that it would meet again in Geneva next week for further discussions with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, speaking earlier Sunday at a meeting of defense officials in Baku, said the international community “should put pressure on Armenia” to withdraw its troops from the enclave for any cease-fire to yield results.
“We have not heard such a statement,” Aliyev said, according to the Russian news service Interfax. “On the contrary,” he said, the Armenian prime minister has “derailed the negotiating process.”
The diplomatic difficulties in mediating the situation underscores the intransigence of the conflict, which predates the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1988, with a predominantly ethnic Armenian population, Nagorno-Karabakh sought to unite with the then-Soviet republic of Armenia and declared independence from Azerbaijan, another Soviet republic.
Then, in 1992, after the Soviet Union collapsed, a full-scale war broke out between the two new countries over control of the mountainous region. Nagorno-Karabakh is located within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan but is controlled mostly by political factions linked to Armenia.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced before a cease-fire was declared in 1994. Since then, there have been periodic skirmishes along the border, including clashes in July that killed at least 16 people.
This latest round of fighting threatens to embroil Russia, which maintains good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan but is treaty-bound to protect Armenia, and NATO-member Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan. Armenia and Russia have accused Turkey of sending Syrian fighters to Nagorno-Karabakh to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan, but its capital, Ankara, has denied that.
Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club forum Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that the casualty count in the latest fighting is significantly deadlier than either side has acknowledged.
“There are a lot of casualties from both sides, more than 2,000 from each side,” Putin said, adding that the number was “nearing 5,000.” At the time, the official death toll was less than 1,000 people.
“I very much hope that our American partners will act in unison with us and will help the settlement,” Putin added.
President Trump appeared Sunday to back Armenia, saying its troops were “fighting like hell.” Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, Trump noted a group of Armenians had attended his recent reelection rally in Ohio. After praising the Armenian “spirit,” Trump said of the dispute: “We’ll get that straightened. I call that an easy one.”
DeYoung reported from Washington.