Russian peacekeepers deployed in the war-torn Nagorno Karabakh region in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as part of a ceasefire agreement that Russian President Vladimir Putin said should pave the way for a permanent political settlement to the conflict there.
The agreement, concluded by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, provides for a complete ceasefire as of midnight on November 10 Moscow time, ending the conflict that has killed thousands, displaced many and threatened to plunge the wider region into war.
The region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is inhabited by Armenians and until recently it was under complete control of the Armenians, who were repelled by the Azerbaijani armed forces in violent battles that have continued for six weeks.
Under the agreement, Azerbaijan will preserve all its territorial gains, including Shusha, which the Armenians call Shushi, and Armenian forces must hand over control of a large number of other lands from now until December 1.
Russian peacekeepers will stay there for at least five years. Putin said the forces would be deployed along the front line in Nagorno Karabakh and in a corridor between the region and Armenia.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that it had begun sending 1960 soldiers on their way to an unnamed air base, to be airlifted with their equipment and vehicles.
The agreement is likely to be seen as an indication that Russia remains the main arbiter in the region it regards as its own backyard, although the scale of Turkish intervention remains unclear and Ankara’s interest in the region has sharply increased.
Turkey has strongly supported Azerbaijan, while Russia has a defense agreement with Armenia and a military base there.
Putin said that the displaced would now be able to return to Nagorno Karabakh and that prisoners and war dead would be exchanged, while all economic and transport links in the region would be reopened with the help of Russian border guards.
“We are working on the basis that the agreements will provide the necessary conditions for a full and long-term settlement of the crisis over Nagorno Karabakh on a fair basis and for the benefit of the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Putin said.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that Turkey would also participate in peacekeeping efforts.
There was no immediate comment from Ankara.
In Armenia, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said of the decision on social media, “The decision was made based on a deep analysis of the combat situation and in cooperation with the best experts”.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed an agreement under the auspices of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which contributed to ending the battles in the Nagorno Karabakh region for six weeks, in which Azerbaijan won a victory.
Here are its main points:
The lands Azerbaijan reclaimed
The agreement to completely stop the fighting that broke out on September 27 came into force on Monday at 21:00 GMT.
Azerbaijan maintains all the lands captured in Nagorno- Karabakh, starting with the strategic and historical city of Shusha, located on a road linking Armenia with the separatist capital, Stepanakert.
Baku has taken back a number of the seven provinces that have formed the security line for Armenian separatists since the 1990s, including Gabriel and Fuseli.
And Armenia must give up other provinces that its forces controlled in the nineties, namely, Kalbjar by November 15, Agdam, by the 20 of the same month, and Lachin until December 1.
Nagorno-Karabakh exited from the agreement weak –
The proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic came out unilaterally, as the majority of the population were Armenians since the 1990s war, weak and defeated, but maintained its continuity.
Its only link with Armenia will be the Lachin Corridor to connect it and its capital, Stepanakert, with its political, military and economic godfather.
It will be surrounded by territories under the control of Azerbaijan from the east, west, north and south.
But Azerbaijan failed to achieve its goal: to regain all the lands it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
To ensure respect for the cessation of hostilities, a battalion of 1960 Russian peacekeepers, 90 armored personnel carriers, 380 vehicles and specialized equipment will be deployed along the “contact line”, that is, along the Armenian-Azerbaijani front.
It will also cost the security of the Lachin Pass, the main point of supplying Karabakh from Armenia.
The Russian forces will be deployed parallel to the Armenian withdrawal.
Its mandate is five years and is renewable.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will organize the return of refugees and people displaced by the fighting.
Prisoners and remains will also be exchanged.
Yerevan must now allow unimpeded passage between the Azerbaijani city and the Nakhchivan enclave in southwestern Armenia.
No potential negotiations are mentioned in this document to settle the Nagorno Karabakh issue definitively.
The region remains a unilaterally proclaimed republic that is not recognized internationally.
Turkey’s role is not mentioned in the document, but according to Baku, its great ally and archenemy of Armenia will have a role to play in peacekeeping.
The historic mediating agreement also did not mention the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe headed by the United States, Russia and France.
For its part, Iran welcomed Tuesday the agreement reached between its neighbors Azerbaijan and Armenia under Russian auspices to end the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh, stressing the need to deport foreign fighters.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry noted an agreement that “led to a ceasefire and suspension of hostilities” in the Armenian-majority separatist region.
In a statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed her hope that the agreement would lead to “final measures to achieve sustainable peace in the Caucasus region, provide calm and prosperity to people in all countries of the region, and relieve current concerns”.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry stressed the need to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity (of the two parties to the conflict), not to change the international borders, to liberate the occupied lands, to return the displaced, to respect the security and rights of minorities, and also to the withdrawal of all takfir forces and foreign fighters from the region”.
Iran had previously warned that it would not tolerate the presence of “terrorists” on its northern borders, following reports and accusations made by several countries in support of Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan, of transferring members of groups loyal to it in northern Syria, to fight alongside Baku’s forces in Nagorno Karabakh.
For its part, Azerbaijan responded by accusing Yerevan of using Armenian “mercenaries”.
Iran has sent military reinforcements to its border areas, and it has warned the two parties that it will not tolerate any breach of its sovereignty, after shells fell inside its territory.
The Islamic Republic has proposed a plan to the parties to end the recent fighting that erupted on 27 September, and to put an end to the decades-old conflict.
On Tuesday, it reiterated its readiness to “assist in achieving sustainable peace and security in the region, and to cooperate in regional initiatives”.