Moscow– The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan have arrived in Russia to discuss their countries’ dispute over the South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh, days before heading to Washington for separate meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as heavy fighting over the region is in its fourth week.
The two Caucasian countries said their top diplomats were in the Russian capital, Moscow, on Wednesday.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov arrived in Moscow for “consultations with the Russian side,” the Azeri Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
His Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, was set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “to discuss the situation in Karabakh and the implementation of a ceasefire agreement,” said Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Nagdalyan.
It was not clear if the two diplomats would meet Lavrov jointly or separately.
The pair will also meet Secretary Pompeo in separate meetings in Washington on Friday. They have ruled out a trilateral meeting there.
The US State Department has not made a statement on the meeting.
Russia has so far brokered two humanitarian ceasefires to bring an end to the deadly conflict that erupted over Karabakh in September. Moscow’s efforts for peace, however, failed to stop the fighting as both Yerevan and Baku violated the ceasefires.
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues efforts “to prevent further escalation of hostilities and resume talks to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh problem by political and diplomatic means as soon as possible,” the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
Putin also discussed the issue in a telephone conversation with his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron.
“The leaders stressed their readiness to continue close coordination between Russia and France as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and within the United Nations Security Council,” the Kremlin said, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Putin also “stressed that the conflicting parties must observe the October 10 and October 17 agreements on cessation of fire,” said his office, referring to the Russian-brokered ceasefires.
Armenian president heads to Brussels
Meanwhile, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian left his country for Brussels to discuss the situation with the European Union (EU) and NATO, his office said on Wednesday.
Sarkissian will meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and European Council President Charles Michel, it said.
His government expects NATO and EU leaders to do “everything possible” to stop the fighting and to “bring to life” a ceasefire deal, the presidential office said.
Fighting continues on the front line
Meanwhile, Armenia and Azerbaijan keep exchanging fire in and around Karabakh.
“A total of 63 civilians were killed, 292 civilians were injured, 1,981 hoses and 90 apartment buildings became uninhabitable, and 386 civilian facilities fell into disrepair,” the Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday.
Azerbaijan also said it had disarmed almost an entire battalion of Armenian armed forces after successful military operations in Karabakh.
The Defense Ministry wrote on its official Facebook page on Wednesday, “Most of the battalion’s military personnel, consisting of about 400 contract servicemen, were disarmed.”
Earlier in the day, the Armenian Defense Ministry’s spokeswoman, Shushan Stepanyan, said Armenia-backed forces in Karabakh had managed to take down an Azerbaijani plane in the southern area of the contact line.
“The situation [on the contact line] is tense but stable,” he added.
But Baku dismissed the claim, describing it as “another falsification by the Armenian military propaganda machine.”
The self-proclaimed government of Karabakh also said the Azerbaijani military had shelled the town of Markakert in the region on Wednesday morning.
It also accused Azerbaijani forces of destroying civilian infrastructure in the region the day earlier.
Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is held by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia since 1992, when they broke from Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 30,000 people.
The conflict re-erupted in late September, becoming the worst fighting in the region in decades.
Armenia says 772 of its soldiers and 36 civilians have so far been killed in the fighting. Baku has reported 63 civilian casualties but has not disclosed its military losses.
Both Russia and Turkey, allies of Armenia and Azerbaijan respectively, have called for the war to end.
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