Armenia Calls for Peacekeepers as Azeri Forces Near Key City

Armenia reported “intense” fighting Friday as Azerbaijani forces closed in on a key strategic city of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said he favors Russian peacekeepers entering the conflict zone after three failed cease-fire attempts by international mediators, in an interview with the Telegraph published Friday. That came as Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said Azerbaijani troops had advanced to just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from its second-largest city, Shushi.

“Who controls Shushi controls Artsakh,” Harutyunyan said, using the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh, in a video posted on social media appealing for support to defend the city.

The admission of significant territorial losses after more than a month of fierce combat underscores the difficulty Armenian forces are facing against an adversary armed with advanced weapons including Turkish and Israeli-made drones that have tipped the military balance in Azerbaijan’s favor.

Prior to the fighting that erupted Sept. 27, Armenian forces controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan as a buffer zone since a Russia-brokered truce in 1994 halted a war that had killed 30,000 and displaced 1 million amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. International mediators led by France, Russia and the U.S. have tried without success for nearly three decades to negotiate a peace deal.

Russia is “absolutely open” to implementation of earlier proposals for returning five of the districts to Azerbaijan plus the last two alongside a “specific regime” for Nagorno-Karabakh that allowed cooperation with Armenia, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. But fighting must be halted first so that negotiations can resume, he said.

Azerbaijan has reported it’s already regained control of land between Nagorno-Karabakh and the border with Iran. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address last week that his country would “carry on to the end” until Armenians announced a withdrawal from its territory. Armenia says it’s defending Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination.

The leaders of Russia, the U.S. and France have tried and failed to secure a truce, as Aliyev has pressed his advantage on the battlefield with vocal support from his ally, Turkey. Iran is the latest to attempt to broker a deal, sending a deputy foreign minister to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey this week with proposals for a peace settlement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether Putin had discussed Russian peacekeepers during contacts with Pashinyan and Aliyev. Any peacekeepers could only enter the conflict zone “with the consent of both sides,” he told reporters on a conference call Friday.

Aliyev has ruled out any role for peacekeepers until after the military operation concludes. Azerbaijan has previously rejected proposals for only Russian troops to monitor the conflict zone, saying that any peacekeeping force should come from more than one country.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are holding talks Friday in Geneva with French, Russian and U.S. mediators representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

International pressure must increase on both sides to halt the fighting as thousands of people flee the region, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday.

“Azerbaijan and Armenia must finally understand that a military solution to the long-running conflict won’t be accepted by the international community,” Maas said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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