MOSCOW — The head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) expressed concern on Thursday about the participation of Syrian mercenaries in hostilities around Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that it poses a “challenge” to the military alliance.
“It’s hard for me now to judge the scale and organization of militants’ transfer to the Karabakh conflict zone,” CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas told RT. “In all likelihood, it is the case, and militants and mercenaries emerge there.”
“Of course it does not help to normalize relations. It poses a certain challenge to the organization,” Zas said in remarks cited by the TASS news agency.
Russia last week implicitly accused Turkey of sending “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya to fight in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side. It demanded their immediate withdrawal from the region.
The Russian foreign intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, warned on Tuesday that the region could become a “launch pad” for Islamist militants to enter Russia.
French President Emmanuel Macron has also said that at least 300 “Syrian fighters from jihadist groups” were flown from Turkey to Azerbaijan ahead of the September 27 outbreak of fighting in Karabakh. Both Ankara and Baku strongly deny that.
The CSTO comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus and three other ex-Soviet states. Zas said the bloc could intervene in the Karabakh conflict if Armenia’s sovereignty is threatened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed on Wednesday that the CSTO statutes commit Moscow to defending Armenia against foreign aggression. “We have always fulfilled, are fulfilling and will fulfill our obligations,” he said in his first public comments on the Karabakh hostilities.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted afterwards that these “CSTO obligations do not extend to Karabakh.”