MOSCOW — Turkey has no business deciding how long Russian peacekeepers should remain stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, responded to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said last week that the peacekeeping contingent must leave Karabakh in 2025 in line with a Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Under that agreement, the 2,000 or so Russian soldiers, deployed along the current Karabakh “line of contact” and in the Lachin corridor right after the six-week war, will stay there for at least five years. The peacekeeping operation can be repeatedly extended by five more years if Armenia and Azerbaijan do not object to that.
Speaking at the end of a NATO summit in Vilnius on July 12, Erdogan expressed confidence that Moscow will honor the truce accord and the five-year timeline set by it.
“Ankara is not a party to the statement of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan dated November 9, 2020,” Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.
“It was on the basis of this document that the Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” she said. “And it is in this document that both the terms of stay of the contingent and the parameters of its possible extension for the next five-year period are laid out.”
Azerbaijan regularly emphasizes that the peacekeeping forces are deployed in the conflict zone on a “temporary” basis. It has increasingly criticized them during its seven-month blockade of the Lachin corridor condemned by Armenia and Karabakh as a gross violation of the ceasefire.
Baku accused the peacekeepers of supporting “Armenian army units” in Karabakh when it rejected on July 16 Moscow’s latest calls for an immediate end to the blockade. A senior Russian diplomat strongly denied the claim.
The Russians have also been criticized by Armenia for their failure to ensure unfettered traffic through Karabakh’s sole land link with the outside world envisaged by the 2020 accord.
Zakharova again defended the peacekeepers, saying that they are playing a “stabilizing role” in Karabakh. “Maintaining peace in the South Caucasus is in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and, I think, all countries of the region, including Turkey,” she said.
Maria Zakharova refused to say whether Russian peacekeeping contingent could use helicopters and aircraft to deliver food, medicines and other necessities to Nagorno-Karabakh that has been blocked by Azerbaijan since last December.
“We work with all sides not only in the public plane – this is to the question of methodology. As for the delivery of humanitarian aid, we understand that individual countries and international structures are currently working on various options to resolve this issue,” Zakharova said.