Russian peacemakers escort hundreds from Azerbaijan to Armenia

Russian peacekeepers escorted 311 refugees from Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, Russia’s defence ministry has said.

More are expected to follow after a 10-month blockade and a military offensive this month that resulted in Azerbaijan reclaiming full control of the breakaway region.

For context: Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan and came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994.

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with territory surrounding the region that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.

A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it. 

Parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that were not retaken by Azerbaijan remained under the control of the separatist authorities.

In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the province’s separatist forces.

Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people.

Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam – a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the region.

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched heavy artillery fire against ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, who conceded to demands to lay down their arms that next day.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status remains an open question, however, and is at the centre of talks between the sides that began on Thursday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh.

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