Putin urges Armenia, Azerbaijan to ease tensions in rare meeting
The leaders of arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to ease tensions left over after their war over the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh last year under the mediation of Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Nov. 26.
Both Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev hailed talks held with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi as positive.
Putin announced that the pair had agreed to begin the process of demarcating their borders, re-building transport links in the region, as well as moving forward on "humanitarian issues."
He thanked Pashinyan and Aliyev - whose countries have been at loggerheads for years and who rarely meet face-to-face-- for agreeing to the talks.
The trio met less than two weeks after the worst fighting between the ex-Soviet Caucasus republics since their six-week war last year that claimed more than 6,500 lives.
The meeting was timed to coincide with the anniversary of a Moscow-brokered ceasefire that ended last year’s conflict.
"We agreed on a number of issues that I think are key," Putin said in a joint press conference after the talks.
Armenia’s Pashinyan said the talks were held in an "open" and "positive" atmosphere .
"The results of the meeting are positive. (The region) will be safer," Azerbaijan’s Aliyev said.
Putin had earlier urged the leaders to ease tensions.
"We were part of a united state for centuries, we have deep historical links," Putin told the pair after holding separate talks with each of them.
"We should aim to rebuild them and nurture them in the future," he said.
He pressed the pair - who last met in January - to hold more direct contacts.
"The more contacts, including direct ones, the better," Putin said.
Putin welcomed the foes’ planned meeting in Brussels on December 15, saying he had discussed the matter with European Council President Charles Michel.
The leaders agreed to start rebuilding Soviet-era transport links between Azerbaijan and Armenia which are currently closed by a mutual blockade.
Putin said Armenian and Azerbaijani officials will meet in Moscow next week to discuss unblocking rail and road transport links.
"Everyone - including Russia as a neighbour - is interested in establishing the (transport) links," he said in comments before the talks.
Baku and Ankara have pressed actively for the reopening of a historic land link uniting Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhichevan and further on to Turkey via Armenia’s Syunik province, as stipulated in last November’s ceasefire agreement.
Russia has supported plans to reopen land communications but shares Armenia’s rejection of the corridor.
On Friday, Azerbaijan handed over to Yerevan two Armenians - a soldier and a civilian - who were detained after last year’s ceasefire, Baku said.