MOSCOW — The status of Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved and it must be a subject of future Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday during his annual press conference to sum up the results of his ministry’s work in 2020.
In the meantime, he stressed, Karabakh will be protected by Russian peacekeeping forces deployed there after a Moscow-brokered agreement that stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war on November 9.
“Precisely because the problem of the status is so thorny it was decided by the three leaders [of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia] to circumvent and leave it to the future,” Lavrov stated. “The [Russian, U.S. and French] co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group must deal with this as well. They have resumed their contacts with the parties and are going to visit the region again.”
He suggested that the return to normality and confidence-building measures in the conflict zone will eventually facilitate an agreement on the main sticking point.
Lavrov said that “In all the agreements, first of all, in the November 9 statement, the parties agreed that there will be a link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh along the Lachin corridor, which will be under the control of Russian peacekeepers.”
“No one has ever denied Armenia’s connection with Nagorno-Karabakh. During the decades of negotiations, the issue of cutting off Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh from each other was never discussed. And that is why the Lachin Corridor, as a concept, was not rejected by anyone. And this is still the agreement between the parties, in particular, it is subject to the consent of our Azerbaijani neighbors,” he said.
According to Lavrov, there should be a link between the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenians of Armenia. “I see no reason to prevent contacts at this level. Armenian officials are involved in the process of providing humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh, which does not cause any negative reaction in Baku, and it would be strange if it were otherwise. The fact that these Armenian officials make rather politicized statements in Nagorno Karabakh, perhaps, causes tension, and it would be better to avoid it,” he said.
On the issue of prisoners of war, Lavrov stated that it is part of the November 9 statement on ending the Karabakh war. He reminded that the issue of exchanging prisoners of war was also discussed during the recent Pashinyan-Putin-Aliyev trilateral meeting in Moscow on January 11.
“At the trilateral meeting held in Moscow on January 11, this issue was discussed for quite a long time. Initially, the following task was set in this issue, that the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides would draw up lists of missing persons whom they want to bring out of captivity. Azerbaijan submitted such a list, the number was insignificant. All of them were returned. After that, the Azerbaijani side did not submit lists of missing persons, prisoners of war or other persons,” Lavrov said, adding that the Armenian side submitted these lists ”not all at once and not in full.”
According to Lavrov, an exchange of POWs during the war has already taken place, which was envisaged by the November 9 joint statement.
“We are already discussing the problem that arose in the Hadrut region in early December, when a large group of Armenian soldiers, which was sent there, was captured. The Azerbaijani side states that these people were sent there after the announcement of the truce, their issue should be considered separately, and not within the framework regulated by the November 9 statement,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Minister noted that this issue is still being raised, and it needs to be resolved, guided by the principle of “everyone in exchange for everyone.” “I spoke with the Armenian foreign minister to be informed about the number of these people. It turned out that their number is more than 62. Now our military is dealing with this issue, cooperating with the military of Armenia and Azerbaijan to clarify the names of the missing persons,” Lavrov said.