Putin explains Russia's position on Karabakh
Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, Putin stressed that the region is an integral part of Azerbaijan according to international law.
"From the international legal point of view, all these territories are an integral part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This is how our position was built in the Minsk Group, where Russia, the United States, and France are co-chairs. For many years, we have always assumed that the seven held areas around Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijan," he said.
The current status of Karabakh should remain unchanged under an obligatory condition of creating a communication channel between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, he said, adding that the Lachin corridor, connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, was established for this purpose.
Putin stressed that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh "should be transferred to the future", noting: "The status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh should be fixed."
Asked about Turkey's position in the conflict, Putin said: "Turkey defended, as they believe, the just cause of Azerbaijan, namely, the return of the territories that were occupied during the clashes in the 1990s."
He refused to speculate about external reasons for the latest outbreak in Karabakh, saying: "The tension lasted for many years".
"I don't think it was due to any outside interference. Many times, there were tensions, clashes, and small shootouts. As a result, it developed into a conflict," he said.
Putin noted that the trilateral agreement among Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan secured positions of the parties to the conflict at their locations when the agreement on the cease-fire was reached.
"This agreement on the cessation of hostilities is very important. Because it stopped the bloodshed, the civilians have stopped dying, this is an extremely important thing, this is fundamental. Everything else is secondary. Saving people's lives and health is the most important task that we have solved," he said.
Commenting on the recent violation of the cease-fire, Putin expressed hope that it would never happen again.
As for a possible rise in the number of Russian peacekeeping troops in the region, he said it can be done only with the approval of all parties because its size was negotiated and agreed at the stage of drafting the cease-fire agreement.
"If everyone comes to the conclusion that this is necessary [to increase the number of peacekeepers], we will do it, if not, then we will not do it," he said.
Relations between the ex-Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
When new clashes erupted on Sept. 27, the Armenian army launched attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces and violated several humanitarian cease-fire agreements.
During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and nearly 300 settlements and villages from the Armenian occupation.
On Nov. 10, the two countries signed a Russian-brokered agreement to end fighting and work toward a comprehensive resolution.
The truce is seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia, whose armed forces have been withdrawing in line with the agreement.