Turkey rejects the moves of Russia, France and the United States to cease fire in Nagorno Karabakh

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels agreed on Friday to impose sanctions on those responsible for the repression in Belarus, a number of participants told AFP.

These sanctions affect about 40 Belarusian officials.

The sanctions were agreed upon, as was a firm message sent to Ankara, accompanied by a threat to impose sanctions on it at the request of Cyprus.

France, Russia and the United States called, on Thursday, for an immediate ceasefire between the Azerbaijani and Armenian forces due to Nagorno Karabakh and urged the parties to the conflict to return to negotiations quickly, but Turkey said that the three countries have no role in the peace steps.

France, Russia and the United States are members of the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was formed in 1992 to mediate a solution to the decades-old conflict over the mountain enclave in the South Caucasus region.

The call came while the death toll rose in the fiercest clashes over the region since the 1990s. 

The region is located within Azerbaijan, but is administered by the Armenians, who make up most of its population.

“We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities… We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit without delay to the resumption of negotiations… in good faith and without preconditions under the auspices of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” the presidents of France, Russia and America said in a joint statement.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech before the Turkish Parliament before the three countries’ statement that he opposes their interference”.

Since the United States, Russia and France have neglected this problem for nearly 30 years, it is unacceptable that you search now for a ceasefire,” Erdogan said.

He added that a permanent ceasefire agreement could only be reached if the “Armenian occupiers” withdrew from Nagorno Karabakh.

His statements are likely to fuel tension with his NATO allies, with mounting fears that the conflict will draw regional powers into it, namely Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, whose population is predominantly Christian, and Turkey, a close ally of Muslim Azerbaijan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with his Turkish counterpart by phone and expressed their readiness to cooperate closely to stabilize the situation.

It was reported that dozens of people were killed and hundreds were injured in the fighting that broke out on Sunday and renewed concerns about stability in the South Caucasus region.

The Nagorno Karabakh region broke away in a war that raged between 1991 and 1994 and claimed 30,000 lives, but it does not enjoy international recognition as an independent republic.

The number of civilian casualties in Azerbaijan has risen to 19 dead and 55 injured, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, and Azerbaijan has not recorded any injuries among its military forces.

The province stated that 103 of its soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded, but it did not provide numbers of civilian casualties.

Armenia said two Frenchmen working for the French Le Monde Newspaper were injured during the Azerbaijani bombing of the town of Martouni in the region.

Television footage published by the Turkish Anadolu News Agency showed journalists running to hide behind a wall in an unspecified location in Nagorno Karabakh after what it said was an Armenian bombing. 

Loud explosions can be heard in the footage.

The region’s Foreign Ministry said that the two journalists underwent a surgical procedure by local doctors in the region, and a source in the Armenian government said that they were in critical condition, and that they had been transferred to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

The renewed conflict, whose beginnings can be traced back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, has raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus, which is a corridor for pipelines that transport oil and gas to world markets, and also fears that regional powers Russia and Turkey may be drawn into it.

The Kremlin said there was no alternative to using “political and diplomatic methods” to solve the crisis.

Macron’s office said that he and Putin “expressed their concern about Turkey sending Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno Karabakh”.

The Russian Tass news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying on Thursday that the Russian Security Council considers any deployment of fighters from Syria and Libya in the conflict zone between Armenia and Azerbaijan a very dangerous development. 

Russia has a military base in Armenia.

Turkey is a close ally of Azerbaijan, which has a Muslim majority, and has said it will “do whatever is necessary” to support Baku, but Ankara has denied sending mercenaries.

Macron, whose country has some 600,000 ethnic Armenians, accused Turkey of using “warlike” rhetoric.

A German government source said that European Union leaders would discuss the conflict at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.