The Russian army announced that its peace-keeping forces were deployed in the Lachin Corridor, which connects Armenia with the separatist Nagorno Karabakh region, as a result of the ceasefire agreement signed with Azerbaijan. “The advancing units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Battalion took control of the Lachin Pass,” Russian General Sergey Rudsky said in a statement.
Russia began deploying 2,000 peacekeepers to Nagorny Karabakh after Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a peace agreement to end weeks of fierce fighting over the disputed region. The agreement, brokered by Moscow, came after a series of Azerbaijani victories in its battle to reclaim the Armenian ethnic enclave.
He rejoiced in Baku and angered in Yerevan
At a time when Azerbaijan witnessed victory celebrations, anger raged in Armenia, as demonstrators took to the streets to denounce the losses of their leaders in the region that broke away from Azerbaijan’s control during the war in the early 1990s.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the agreement in the early hours of Tuesday. Pashinyan described the agreement as “indescribably painful to me and our people,” while Aliyev said it amounted to a “surrender” by Armenia. Apparently, the full text of the agreement showed clear gains for Azerbaijan as its forces would retain control over areas captured in the fighting, including the main town of Shusha, while Armenia agreed to a timetable for withdrawal from large parts of Nagorny Karabakh.
A Russian force of 1,960 soldiers and 90 armored personnel carriers will be deployed in the region as peacekeepers on a five-year, renewable mission. President Ilham Aliyev confirmed that Turkey, the main ally, would also participate in the peacekeeping efforts. In this regard, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara and Moscow would jointly supervise the ceasefire in a “joint center defined by Azerbaijan in its territories that were saved from the occupation of Armenia.”. The Turkish president hailed the truce, describing it as a “correct step towards a permanent solution.”
Conflict in the disputed territory erupted in late September with more than 1,400 people confirmed dead, including dozens of civilians, but the death toll is believed to be much higher.
The Azerbaijani forces made steady gains over the weeks of fighting, sweeping through the southern side of the region to reach its heart. The turning point came on Sunday when Aliyev announced that his forces had captured Shusha, the second-largest strategically vital city in the region.
“The Secretary-General is satisfied to reach an agreement on a cessation of hostilities,” said UN Secretary-General spokesman Antonio Guterres, Stephan Dujarric, adding, “We are very grateful for what the Russian authorities have done. The sense of relief really relates to the hope that this will lead to an end to the suffering of civilians.”.
“The concern in Baku among those who see Russian peacekeepers as an encroachment on their sovereignty may be a litmus test for the agreement,” said Olga Oliker of the International Crisis Group.
The announcement of the agreement caused an explosion of anger in Yerevan, as angry protesters stormed the government headquarters, looted offices, and smashed windows. Crowds also entered Parliament and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation.
Police regained control of the two buildings, but the opposition called for a protest on Wednesday against Pashinyan, who took office and led peaceful protests in 2018.
Pashinyan said he was personally responsible for the Karabakh “disaster”, but defended his decision, saying the situation could have worsened. In Baku, jubilant residents took to the streets chanting, “Karabakh! Karabakh!” And waving the Azerbaijani and Turkish flags.
Karabakh declared its independence nearly 30 years ago but is not recognized internationally, even by Armenia. All attempts at a ceasefire brokered by France, Russia, and the United States, which together lead the “Minsk Group” that sought for years to end the conflict, have been unsuccessful in recent weeks.
The latest agreement did not mention the status of Armenian populated areas in Nagorny Karabakh or the form of future negotiations to settle the conflict. The US State Department said in a statement that Washington “is happy to see an end to violence” but “will be interested in learning more about the details and plans to implement this new arrangement.”
‘Stop the provocations’
Azerbaijan is pressing for Turkey to participate in a settlement, and the new agreement came after Putin spoke with Erdogan on Saturday. The agreement also provides for Armenia’s approval of a transport corridor linking Azerbaijan with the Nakhchivan enclave on the border with Turkey.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his hope that “the agreement preserves the interests of Armenia,” and called on Turkey to “end its provocations” regarding the conflict.
The ceasefire came just hours after Azerbaijan admitted that it had accidentally shot down a Russian military helicopter in Armenia near Nakhchivan, killing two crew members, and quickly apologized.
Russia has a military deal with Armenia, but it also has good relations with oil-rich Azerbaijan, both of which are former Soviet republics that gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.