Russia, U.S., EU intensify efforts to halt Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Russia, the United States, the European Union and NATO are intensifying their attempts to halt a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan and Armenia’s top diplomatic envoys flew to Moscow on Wednesday for meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as the fighting raged despite two Moscow-brokered ceasefires over the past two weeks.

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian also travelled to Brussels for talks with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. On Friday, Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan are due in Washington D.C. for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Battles between the two countries’ armed forces continued on Wednesday in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is majority Armenian but located within Azerbaijan’s borders. Azerbaijan said it made further territorial gains, capturing Armenian positions and destroying artillery, mortars and military vehicles. Shushan Stepanyan, Armenia’s Defence Ministry spokesman, said Armenian forces had shot down an Azeri plane, a claim Azerbaijan denied.

The fighting, which began on Sept. 27, raises the possibility of a wider war in the South Caucasus, possibly drawing in Russia and Turkey, which is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan. It is also raising fears for the security of Azeri pipelines carrying oil and natural gas to world markets.

Russia, the United States and France are co-chairs of the Minsk Group, tasked with reaching a permanent peace deal over the enclave since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in a war in which about 30,000 people perished.

Armenia, which has a defence pact with Russia, accuses Turkey of supplying weapons and Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan and this week published details of what it said was a downed Turkish drone equipped with Canadian technology.

Turkey denies any direct role in the fighting but says it will support Azerbaijan “to the end”. The two allies, which share cultural and language ties, are calling for full Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh before peace talks begin, but Armenia says Azerbaijan will use that as a pretext for a land grab.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his government would fully support Azerbaijan against Armenia, which he accused of occupying Azeri territory for decades and launching attacks on civilians in violation of international law.

Azerbaijan has called for Turkey to become a co-leader of the Minsk Group, citing its position as a new global power. Russia has rejected a Turkish proposal to represent Azerbaijan in any peace negotiations.

Turkey “has a completely destructive role” in Nagorno-Karabakh, Sarkissian told France24 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile on Wednesday the war of words between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued, with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan making a combative speech dismissing the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Caucasus observers like Neil Hauer of the Middle East Institute suggested that the speech was a response to a ‘similarly toned’ speech by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev yesterday.