Russia expressed concern Thursday (15/12/12) about the rising tensions between Armenian and Azerbaijan. A key road connecting Armenia to the disputed Nagorno–Karabakh enclave was still blocked for the fourth consecutive day.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two countries have been engaged in repeated wars over Nagorno Karabakh – which is internationally recognized as being part of Azerbaijan and home to approximately 120,000 ethnic Armenians. In a recent flare-up, over 200 soldiers were killed.
At the beginning of the week, a group of Azerbaijanis, claiming to be environmental activists, blocked the Lachin corridor. This was the only land route that people, goods and medical supplies could use to reach Nagorno Karabakh from Armenia via Azerbaijani territory.
Reuters video showed a crowd, many of them carrying Azerbaijani flags blocking the road on Thursday. It was a peaceful standoff between Russian troops deployed to the region by a 5,000-strong force and the crowd.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that closing the passage was a “gross violator” of the peace agreement between Yerevan, Baku in the year 2000 and that the inhabitants of the enclave were being held hostage.
Armenia claims that the Azerbaijani government has sent protesters to Armenia to try to prevent Armenia from accessing the region.
According to Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, it was the Russian peacekeeping force who closed the route. The Foreign Ministry claimed that the activists were protesting illegal Armenian mining in Nagorno Karabah.
It stated that they were expressing the “rightful dissatisfaction” of Azerbaijani citizens with illegal economic activity, the looting natural resources and environmental damage.
According to the statement, Armenia was accused of many breaches of agreements between them. It also claimed that landmines had been placed in Armenia which have killed 45 people since 2020.
This standoff is a test for Russia’s security guarantor role in the region, at a time its struggles in Ukraine threaten to undermine its top-dog status with former Soviet republics of the South Caucasus or Central Asia.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, expressed concern about the situation and stated that Moscow expected the route to be cleared within a short time. It was unacceptable and counterproductive to blame Russia’s peacekeepers for the current situation, she said.
Reporters were told by Zakharova that the Russian defense ministry and the Russian peacekeeping contingent had been active in de-escalating the situation. She added that they expect to restore full transport links in the near future.
Russia is Armenia’s ally through a mutual self defense pact. However, it tries to maintain good relations with Azerbaijani and has refused to support Yerevan with military assistance.
Both the US State Department of the United States and the European Union urged Azerbaijan to open the Lachin corridor. Washington stated that its closure had “severe humanitarian consequences” and impeded the peace process.
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