YEREVAN, November 7. /TASS/. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has highly assessed the activities of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
"We highly assess the activities of Russian peacekeepers. Their role in ensuring security in Nagorno-Karabakh is exceptional. And it should be noted," he said in an interview with Armenia’s Public Television on Sunday.
According to the Armenian prime minister, the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to the region is one of the most important and fully implemented provisions of the trilateral statement of November 9, 2020. "The first provision is the cessation of fire and hostilities. I highly value Russia’s role and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s contribution to the cessation of war. One of the most important and fully implemented provisions of the November 9 statement was the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor," he said.
At the same time, he accused Baku of seeking to discredit the activities of Russian peacekeepers. "Ceasefire violations, the death of servicemen in Artsakh (non-recognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh - TASS) after November 9, 2020 demonstrate that Azerbaijan is pursuing a policy of discrediting the activities of Russian peacekeepers," he said.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the highland region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that had been part of Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union break-up, but primarily populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out in February 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1992-1994, tensions boiled over and exploded into large-scale military action for control over the enclave and seven adjacent territories after Azerbaijan lost control of them. Talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement have been ongoing since 1992 under the OSCE Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs - Russia, France and the United States.
Renewed clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted on September 27, 2020, with intense battles raging in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. On November 9, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a joint statement on a complete ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the document, the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides stopped at the positions that they had held and Russian peacekeepers were deployed along the engagement line in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor that connects Armenia with the enclave to exercise control of the ceasefire observance. Apart from that, a number of districts came over to Baku’s control.
The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh stabilized after the deployment of Russian peacekeepers and tens of thousands of Karabakh residents have returned to their homes.
Armenia is interested in the 3+3 format and in other regional projects that doesn’t duplicate the existing formats, Pashinyan said.
"Armenia is interested in the 3+3 format, like in any other regional project, if it doesn’t duplicate other existing formats. If this project brings a new agenda, it is interesting. But it would be pointless to discuss in this format the agenda, which is addressed, say, within the Minsk Group or the working group on unblocking communications," he said in an interview with Armenia’s Public Television.
According to Pashinyan, regional cooperation is a major provision in the government’s program. Armenia, in his words, is interested in any projects helping to open the region’s potential.
The initiative on six-party cooperation on Nagorno-Karabakh and on issues of unblocking economic and transport ties in the South Caucasus came from Azerbaijani and Turkish Presidents, Ilham Aliyev and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Iran welcomed this idea and said it was ready to promote steps towards peace in the region. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian side is working with the Armenian colleagues and hopes that Georgia will also express its readiness to join this mechanism. Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani noted that Tbilisi should also be represented in a new negotiating format, despite its strains with Russia.
The ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh is not observed,Pashinyan said.
"With a heavy heart, I have to state that the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh is not fully observed. It was confirmed by Russian peacekeepers as well. I hope a thorough probe will be conducted and necessary measures will be taken," he said in an interview with Armenia’s Public Television.
The demarcation and delimitation of the border with Azerbaijan, opening communications and the Karabakh settlement are separate issues, Pashinyan said.
"We have said more than once that the processes of demarcation and delimitation, the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, opening of regional communications are separate issues. This is our position. I said at a government meeting back in May that I am ready to sign the Russia-initiated document on the demarcation and delimitation and you probably remember the political uproar it stirred up," he said in an interview with Armenia’s Public Television.
OSCE Minsk Group
Pashinyan believes that time is ripe for the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to pay a visit to the region.
"Last week a US delegation, including the American co-chairperson of the OSCE Minsk Group, Andrew Schofer, visited Yerevan. I asked him why such a visit by co-chairs had not taken place yet. He replied that work was in progress to arrange for such a trip. I believe that time is ripe for the visit. I suspect there may be some hindrances on the Azerbaijani side," Pashinyan said in a televised interview on Sunday.
He reiterated that the Karabakh settlement talks must proceed within the Minsk Group.
The OSCE Minsk group, co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, was established as a platform to explore ways of achieving a peace settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The group also includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The negotiations on this platform have lasted since the 1990s.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on April 13 said that he was expecting proposals from the Minsk Group for its further functioning. He said it might play a positive role in further efforts to restore a peaceful life in the region. The Minsk Group on the same day urged the parties to refrain from mutual accusations and launch preparations for constructive negotiations.
Shushi and the Gadrut district
The right of the Armenian population to return to Shushi and the Gadrut district of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been enforced to this day, although there is a special clause to this effect in the November 9, 2020 statement, adopted by the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Pashinyan said.
"I have to state that the right of the Armenian population to return to Shushi and the Gadrut district has not been enforced to this day although there is a special clause to this effect in the November 9 statement," he said.
He pointed to some other violations of the trilateral statement, such as repeated violations of ceasefire, disrupted supply links and Azerbaijan’s refusal to release persons held in its custody.
Nearly the whole of the Gadrut District and the city of Shushi (its Azerbaijani name is Shusha), which in the Soviet era were part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, were taken over by Azerbaijan following hostilities in the area of conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Last year’s clashes lasted for six weeks to end after the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia adopted a joint statement on November 9, 2020. In accordance with that statement the Azerbaijani and Armenian forces stopped at the positions they were holding at the moment. Russian peacekeepers were deployed along the engagement line. Under paragraph eight of that statement the exchange of prisoners of war was to be carried in accordance with the all-for-all pattern.