Putin meets Azeri, Armenia leaders over Karabakh violence
Russian President Vladimir Putin met the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday in a bid to shore up a shaky truce after the worst violence in decades over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh.
Fighting along the volatile frontline of the contested region --- 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.
Key regional powerbroker Putin held a meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Saint Petersburg after first meeting the two rivals separately.
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.
"Our position on Karabakh is well known: we want this issue to be resolved exclusively peacefully," Sarkisian 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.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded that the talks would be "difficult" and said the main task was to make sure there was no "resumption of military hostilities."
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.
Sarkisian 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.
© 2016 AFP