Putin meets Azeri, Armenia leaders over Karabakh violence
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday was to meet with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday in a bid to shore up a shaky truce over disputed Nagorny Karabakh.
Putin, the regional power-broker, was to sit down separately with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Saint Petersburg. The three would then meet together.
In the contested region’s worst violence in decades, at least 110 people were killed and scores were wounded in April before a Russia-mediated ceasefire dampened the bloodshed.
Nagorny Karabakh — controlled by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan — has been a flarepoint since a brutal war between the two sides erupted as the Soviet Union collapsed.
April’s violence was the bloodiest since an inconclusive truce halted the conflict in 1994 and sparked fears of a return to an all-out war that could pitch regional titans Russia and Turkey against each other.
“The talks will be difficult,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
“The main task is to insure against a resumption of military hostilities.”
Moscow has sold weapons to both of the former Soviet nations but has a military alliance with Armenia. Turkey pledged its full support to its 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.
But tensions remain extremely high along the volatile frontline and both sides have accused each other of breaking the truce.
Armenian separatists seized the landlocked territory in a war in the early 1990s that claimed some 30,000 lives, and the two sides have never signed a final peace deal.
They began rearming heavily in recent years, 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.