Russia Brokers Armenia-Azerbaijan Cease-Fire

Russia announced it had brokered a lasting cease-fire deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory early Tuesday — the Kremlin’s latest attempt to end six weeks of intense fighting in the south Caucasus that risked pulling both Russia and Turkey directly into the conflict.  “The achieved agreement created the necessary conditions for a long-term and full format settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on a just basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani people,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a FILE – Men walk along graves of soldiers and civilians who were killed during a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Stepanakert, Nov. 2, 2020.The leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which Armenians call Artsakh, said Pashinyan was simply bowing to reality after Azerbaijani gains brought their forces within artillery striking distance of the self-proclaimed republic’s capital city of Stepanakert.   “Over the course of 43 days, we lost the Fizuli region, the Jabrayil region, the Qubatlu region, the Zangelan region, the majority of the Hadrut region, parts of the Martuni and Askeran regions, and Shushi, said the republic’s president, Arayik Harutyunyan, in People hold the national flag after Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the country’s forces had taken Shusha, which Armenians call Shushi, during fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Azerbaijan, Nov. 8, 2020.A helicopter downed, then peacekeepers deployed  The Russia-brokered agreement came just hours after Azerbaijan acknowledged its forces had accidentally downed a Russian helicopter operating in Armenia, killing two Russian servicemen and raising questions about how the Kremlin would respond.   Russia has a mutual defense pact with Armenia that has repeatedly raised concerns it may get pulled into the conflict despite maintaining good relations with Azerbaijan.   Yet a Kremlin spokesman maintained that the helicopter incident had not influenced the talks.By midday Tuesday local time, Russian peacekeepers were en route to the region, where they would begin a five-year presence, even as questions lingered over whether the mission would be theirs alone.  Media reports in Azerbaijan said President Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were discussing Turkish forces also taking part in the peacekeeping operation.If true, the move was all but certain to be seen as provocative by Armenians, who accuse Turkey of carrying out a campaign of genocide against them during World War I.Yet observers in Moscow said the Turkish demands reflected its growing influence over the Caucasus region, at Russia’s expense.   “For 20 years Russia pretended they were the only power in the south Caucasus — arming both sides to preserve the balance of power,” said military analyst Alexander Goltz in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio.“But then a new player came in” added Goltz, who argues the Kremlin-backed peace deal was “the best of bad options” to keep Russia a player in the region.FILE – A man drives a car past a damaged building following shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha) during fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 29, 2020.The war that never went away  Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out on Sept. 27 – the latest in a long-simmering conflict that erupted amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and birth of national independence movements.Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence in 1994 but has always been regarded as formally part of Azerbaijan by the international community.A 1994 internationally negotiated cease-fire froze the conflict but failed to bring a lasting peace.Religion has also played a role, with Armenians largely Christian and Azerbaijanis predominately Muslim.   Over the years, both sides have engaged in skirmishes and breached the cease-fire, with dead and casualties to show for it.It is not clear exactly how many have died in the latest fighting. Both sides have accused the other of wantonly targeting civilians. 

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