Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have met in Moscow, along with the Russian president. According to Putin, the three discussed issues faced by residents of the warzone and unblocking regional economic and transportation links.
The meeting on Monday is the first time the two leaders have met face to face since a deal was struck on 9 November bringing an end to 44-days of fierce fighting. The war left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced. The deal was met with celebrations in Azerbaijan but sparked consternation and political turmoil in Armenia.
In a joint press briefing following the meeting, President Putin announced that a trilateral agreement ‘on the development of Karabakh’ had been signed by all three leaders.
He said this would include economic and infrastructure projects and that the vice prime ministers of the three countries would create a working group to create a specific plan to develop transport infrastructure in the region.
The first meeting was will be held before 30 January and the working group will submit a detailed timetable for approval by the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan by 1 March.
According to the agreement, creating railway and road links will be the first priority.
President Aliyev said this would include rail links between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan through Armenia, and between Armenia and Russia through Azerbaijan.
Aliyev also said that the conflict was now ‘in the past’, while Pashinyan said it had yet to be resolved, as the status of the territory still controlled by Armenian forces has yet to be determined. He added that Armenia was ready to continue negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Pashinyan also lamented that ‘unfortunately, today we could not solve the issue of POWs’, adding that they had agreed to continue the work on the issue.
Before the meeting, Putin said that the peace agreement was being successfully implemented, laying the basis for a lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
‘Today, it will be important to outline the next steps in the key directions of the settlement outlined in the joint statement of 9 November last year’, Putin said. ‘I am talking about issues connected to the activities of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, clarification of demarcation lines, solving humanitarian problems, protection of cultural heritage sites.’
He said that the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia would continue to discuss moves to restore transportation links in the region, another part of the 9 November agreement.
Ahead of the meeting, Putin chaired a meeting on Sunday to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement with high-level Russian officials, including the foreign and defence ministers.
Putin also discussed the upcoming meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. ‘The President of France expressed his support for Russia’s efforts to facilitate the settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh’, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.
Protests in Armenia ahead of Pashinyan’s departure
Several opposition parties who are demanding Pashinyan’s resignation called on people to block the entrance to Yerevan’s Zvartnots International Airport to stop the prime minister from going to Moscow. However, despite the presence of protesters, Pashinyan departed without incident.
A small group of Russian Armenians also gathered near the Armenian embassy in Moscow calling for Pashinyan to resign.
Rumours of the meeting began to spread in Armenia days before the official announcement. Several protests and meetings with Armenian officials were held in an attempt to stop Pashinyan or to force the government to publish the meeting’s agenda.
In response, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mane Gevorgyan, said the meeting would have an economic context. ‘But for the Armenian side, the issue of the return of the captives, search and rescue operations of our soldiers […] the fate of missing are crucial. Without resolving these issues or making significant progress, it will be tough to discuss the economic agenda effectively’, Gevorgyan wrote.
Ahead of the Moscow meeting, opposition leaders met with Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian. Vazgen Manukyan, the opposition candidate for Prime Minister told journalists that after holding meetings with the Chief of General Staff of Armed Forces, Onik Gasparyan, and the Director of National Security Service, Armen Abazyan, after which they would issue a statement.
‘We expressed our concerns to the minister and heard some explanations,’ Manukyan said.