YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The time is still not ripe for Armenia to formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent republic, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said on Wednesday.

Abrahamian made clear at the same time that Yerevan will not hesitate to do so if Azerbaijan again attempts to forcibly regain control over Karabakh and Armenian-held districts surrounding the disputed territory.

“The president of the republic [Serzh Sarkisian] has made his position clear,” he said. “If those attacks and hostilities continue, we will have to take that step.”

“There is no need to do that yet,” the Armenian premier told journalists.

Sarkisian threatened to recognize Karabakh following the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact” which left at least 170 soldiers from both sides dead. His cabinet last week paved the way for parliamentary debates on an opposition bill mandating such recognition. It made clear, however, that the National Assembly dominated by government supporters could approve the bill only if Azerbaijan unleashes “new aggression” against Karabakh.

Earlier in the week, the Azerbaijani government warned Armenia against taking such a “provocative” step.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope, meanwhile, that Yerevan will not press ahead with the recognition. “We continue to expect the parties to avoid any steps that could undermine the shaky ceasefire and lead to an escalation of tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.

Abrahamian answered reporters’ questions two days after visiting Karabakh and inspecting Armenian troops stationed along “the line of contact.” He also took part in official celebrations of Karabakh’s most important public holiday marking the anniversary of a key Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 with Azerbaijan.

Abrahamian said he was “buoyed” by his meetings with Karabakh’s political and military leaders as well as ordinary people and soldiers. They have “a great deal confidence in our future victories,” he said.

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