Russian peacekeeping troops deployed to the war-ravaged enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early hours of Tuesday as part of a ceasefire deal President Vladimir Putin said should pave the way for a lasting political settlement of the conflict there.
The deal, agreed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, ushered in a full ceasefire from midnight Moscow time on Nov. 10, freezing a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced many more and threatened to plunge the wider region into war.
The territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and, until recently, fully controlled by ethnic Armenians who have been relentlessly pushed back by the armed forces of Azerbaijan in six weeks of heavy fighting.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan will get to keep all of its territorial gains, including the enclave’s second city of Shusha/Shushi, and ethnic Armenian forces must hand over control of a slew of other territories between now and Dec. 1.
Russian peacekeepers will stay in place for at least five years. Putin said they would be deployed along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and in a corridor between the region and Armenia.
The Russian defence ministry said it had started deploying 1,960 servicemen, who were en route to an unnamed air base to be airlifted along with their equipment and vehicles.
The deal is likely to be seen as a sign that Russia is still the main arbiter in a region it regards as its own backyard, though the scale of Turkish involvement remained unclear and Ankara’s interest in the region has sharply increased.
Turkey staunchly supported Azerbaijan, while Russia has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there.
Putin said displaced people would now be able to return to Nagorno-Karabakh, and prisoners of war and the war dead be exchanged, while all economic and transport links in the area would be reopened with the help of Russian border guards.
“We are operating on the premise that the agreements will create the necessary conditions for a long-term and fully-fledged settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on a fair basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azeri peoples,” Putin said.