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Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia to meet in Sochi

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Russian President Vladimir Putin will host talks with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday after renewed clashes between the two ex-Soviet nations over borders in the Karabakh region.

The summit with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian 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.

Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military illegally occupied Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Clashes erupted on Sept. 27, 2020, with the Armenian Army attacking civilians, violating several humanitarian cease-fire agreements.

During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and around 300 settlements and villages that had been occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.

The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered agreement on Nov. 10, 2020, which was seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

However, the cease-fire has been broken several times since then.

Last month, 286 people from both sides were killed in clashes that have jeopardized 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.

European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron mediated talks between Pashinian 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 middleman between the two countries, which were both part of the Soviet Union.

Russian peacekeepers

The 2020 cease-fire agreement saw Russia deploying a force of 2,000 peacekeepers to the region to oversee a fragile truce.

Ahead of the talks, Armenia’s Pashinian 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,” Pashinian 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 Pashinian raising concerns about the force, in rare Armenian criticism of its bigger ally this summer.

Azerbaijan’s Aliyev, victorious in 2020, has vowed to repopulate Karabakh with Azerbaijanis and recently re-opened an airport in the conquered territories.

After the conflict ended, Azerbaijan launched a massive reconstruction initiative in the liberated Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan’s ally Türkiye has also advanced its efforts to be involved in the conflict mediation, with its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meeting both Aliyev and Pashinian in Prague.

The Kremlin said the trio would also discuss “questions on rebuilding and developing trade and economic as well as transport links.”

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