MOSCOW – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday defended Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh accused by Armenia of not protecting the region’s population against Azerbaijani attacks.

“The Russian peacekeepers are doing everything to protect the civilian population,” Putin told a visiting senior Chinese official. “We are in constant touch with the authorities in Yerevan, Stepanakert and Baku. We hope to achieve de-escalation and put things on a peaceful track.”

Putin spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan later in the day. The Armenian government said they discussed “the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh” and Russian-Armenian relations that have further deteriorated in recent weeks. It gave no details.

According to the Kremlin’s readout of the call, Putin welcomed the ceasefire agreement and said the commanders of the Russian peacekeeping contingent will mediate talks between Azerbaijani and Karabakh officials slated for Thursday.

“Despite the difficult conditions, the peacekeepers continue to accurately carry out their assigned tasks and provide comprehensive assistance to the civilian population and refugees, including with the help of military doctors,” the statement cited Putin as saying.

Speaking to Armenian Public Television late on Tuesday, Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, charged that the Russian peacekeepers failed to protect Karabakh’s population contrary to their “obligations” spelled out by another truce accord that was brokered by Moscow during the 2020 war.

Grigoryan denied suggestions that Yerevan further alienated Moscow earlier this month by holding a joint military exercise with the United States, providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine and moving to accept jurisdiction of an international court that issued an arrest warrant for Putin in February. He said that Moscow failed to honor its commitments even before these moves condemned by the Russian Foreign Ministry as “unfriendly.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, accused the Armenian government of “ingratitude” after several Russian peacekeepers were killed in Karabakh in unclear circumstances on Wednesday.

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