Russia Blames Armenia for Breakdown in Azerbaijan Talks
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks during the annual news conference of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia January 14, 2022. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS
TBILISI (Reuters) - Russia blamed Armenia on Thursday for a breakdown in peace talks with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, in the latest sign of friction between allies Moscow and Yerevan over the conflict.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have for months been in talks to broker a peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh - a breakaway enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but home to a mainly Armenian population.
For the past month, Azerbaijanis claiming to be environmental activists have blocked transport along the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia in what Yerevan has called a government-endorsed blockade. Baku says the protesters have legitimate concerns over illegal Armenian mining, and have denied that the region is under blockade.
In a statement on Thursday, Russia blamed Armenia for cancelling peace talks between the two sides and called on Yerevan to come back to the negotiating table.
"It is difficult to assess Yerevan's position when their official statements differ so significantly," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
She said Yerevan's decision to pull out of peace talks set for last month in Moscow "prevented us from discussing the peace treaty," adding: "If our Armenian partners are really interested in solving these problems ... then instead of engaging in scholasticism, it is necessary to continue working together."
Officials in Yerevan have grown increasingly angry at Russia - formally an ally through a mutual self-defence treaty - for not doing more to end the blockade.
Nagorno-Karabakh won de facto independence from Baku after a lengthy war in the early 1990s. After a second war in 2020, Azerbaijan retook territory in and around the enclave. A Moscow-brokered ceasefire saw Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Lachin corridor linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia says Azerbaijan is not abiding by the ceasefire's provision for free movement along the Lachin corridor and wants Russian peacekeepers to do more to dislodge the protesters. Moscow has said it is doing everything it can to help.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said last month that Russian peacekeepers were not fulfilling their obligations under the 2020 ceasefire, and that, if they were unable to do so, they should make way for a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
At a news conference on Thursday marking a month since the start of the blockade, senior Nagorno-Karabakh separatist official Ruben Vardanyan distanced himself from Pashinyan's comments, saying that "futile" criticism of Moscow's peacekeepers only helped Azerbaijan.
"The situation would obviously have been much harder if the Russian peacekeepers were not here," Vardanyan said, adding that he wanted the peacekeepers to remain in the area for "decades" and that their numbers should be increased.