STEPANAKERT — Nagorno-Karabakh will continue to reject Azerbaijan’s demands to disband its armed forces, NKR Foreign Minister Sergei Ghazaryan said on Thursday.

Ghazaryan said the existence of the Defense Army remains essential in the face of existential threats to Karabakh’s Armenian population.

“Seeing how the Azerbaijani side’s aggressive actions and rhetoric are gaining momentum, it’s obviously not realistic to discuss the dissolution of the Defense Army or the state system,” Ghazaryan told reporters.

In recent months, Baku has repeatedly threatened military action against Karabakh’s “illegal armed formations” that were supported by Armenia until the 2020 war and significantly downsized since then. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that they must be “disarmed” and disbanded.

Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, said last week that this is Azerbaijan’s main precondition for negotiating with Stepanakert. He also complained that Baku is only willing to discuss the Armenian-populated region’s “integration” into Azerbaijan.

One of Harutyunyan’s political allies told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Monday that this is the reason why Karabakh’s leaders turned down last month a U.S. proposal to meet with Azerbaijani officials in a neutral location for integration talks.

Ghazaryan said, however, that they did not refuse to negotiate with Baku. He stressed at the same time that Stepanakert cannot negotiate “under pressure” and that the Azerbaijani side must first unblock emergency food supplies to Karabakh through the Lachin corridor.

“There can be no dialogue with preconditions,” he said. “The other side must demonstrate that it is ready for dialogue. But if they close the road, how can we be sure that they are ready for dialogue?”

Ghazaryan also confirmed that Harutyunyan last week appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help lift the eight-month Azerbaijani blockade of Karabakh’s only land link with the outside world. He said Stepanakert specifically hopes that the Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh will “make every effort” for that purpose in line with the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the 2020 war.

Putin discussed the matter with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in a phone call on Wednesday. Harutyunyan said he asked Pashinian to phone the Russian leader.

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