Russian President Vladimir Putin will host talks with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday, a month after the worst clashes erupted between the Caucasus foes since they went to war in 2020.
The summit with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev also comes eight months into Putin’s Ukraine offensive that has made some of Russia’s allies nervous.
The trio will meet on Putin’s initiative in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The Kremlin said they will focus on discussing the implementation of agreements reached in talks under Russia’s mediation last year and “further steps to strengthen stability and security” in the region.
Putin will also hold talks with each leader alone, Moscow said.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a six-week war in autumn 2020 that claimed the lives of more than 6,500 troops from both sides.
It ended with a Russian-brokered deal and saw Yerevan cede swathes of territory.
Last month, 286 people from both sides were killed in clashes that have jeopardised a slow peace process.
The talks come as Western leaders get more involved in mediating the decades-long conflict, with Moscow’s military focused on Ukraine.
EU chief Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron mediated talks between Pashinyan and Aliyev in Brussels in August.
Russia and EU leaders have traded criticism of their mediation efforts in the Karabakh conflict, with Moscow and Paris, in particular, exchanging jabs this month.
Putin recently dismissed a comment by Macron who said that Moscow was “destabilizing” a peace process between the two countries.
“Russia has always sincerely sought to resolve any conflicts, including issues related to Karabakh,” he said earlier this month.
The Sochi talks seemingly reflect Russia’s effort to reinstate its authority in the conflict, where Moscow has traditionally acted as a middle-man between the two countries, which were both part of the Soviet Union.
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– Russian peacekeepers –
The 2020 ceasefire agreement saw Russia deploying a force of 2,000 peacekeepers to the region to oversee a fragile truce.
Ahead of the talks, Armenia’s Pashinyan said he was “ready” to extend their presence by up to another two decades at the Sochi talks.
“I am prepared to sign a document in Sochi extending the peacekeepers’ mandate for 10, 15 or 20 years,” Pashinyan said on Saturday, according to Russian agencies.
The Armenian leader said he hoped Putin would make this proposal.
Russia’s peacekeeping mission has been criticized by some, with even Pashinyan raising concerns about the force, in rare Armenian criticism of its bigger ally this summer.
Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, victorious in 2020, has vowed to repopulate Karabakh with Azerbaijanis and recently re-opened an airport in the conquered territories.
Baku’s ally Turkey has also advanced its efforts to be involved in the conflict mediation, with its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting both Aliyev and Pashinyan in Prague.
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The Kremlin said the trio would also discuss “questions on rebuilding and developing trade and economic as well as transport links”.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.