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Blinken Looks To Ease Tensions Between Armenia And Azerbaijan

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on January 18 with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to discuss steps to restart bilateral talks with Azerbaijan amid escalating tensions over a blockade of the only direct access road to the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Blinken "expressed deep concern for the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting from the blockage of the Lachin Corridor," the State Department said in a statement.

"He also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to support efforts toward a lasting peace and to our strong multifaceted bilateral relationship," the statement said.

The call between Blinken and Pashinian came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin was ready to send a mission from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow on January 18, Lavrov said that while "there are difficulties linked to the current situation in Armenia" within the CSTO, Russia is still ready to send a mission from the military alliance, which also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Those difficulties center mainly on Yerevan insisting the CSTO condemn Azerbaijan's actions. Yerevan accuses the Azerbaijani government of backing protesters identifying themselves as environmentalists who have been blocking the road since last month.

"We had difficulties related to the situation in Armenia, when our Armenian friends pushed the need to send a CSTO mission to the border with Azerbaijan to ensure some stability there," Lavrov said.

"We agreed on a document and on the parameters of the mission...but it was not possible to accept it, because Armenia started insisting that the document contain a harsh condemnation of Azerbaijan."

Armenia has called the blockade a gross violation of the Russian-brokered agreement from November 2020 that suspended more than a month of intense fighting in the decades-old Armenian-Azerbaijani war over the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts.

Close to 7,000 people died on both sides during the 2020 war that ended with Baku's regaining control of a big part of the region and seven adjacent districts that had been under ethnic Armenians' control for three decades.

The cease-fire ushered in a deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the area and joint monitoring of the situation with longtime Azerbaijani ally Turkey.

But Pashinian has also questioned the CSTO's effectiveness, criticizing its refusal to assist Yerevan in September during border clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

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Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of capturing dozens of square kilometers of sovereign Armenian territory in a series of incursions since May 2021. Azerbaijan denies the accusation.

"If we want to send a CSTO mission, the move cannot be influenced externally and carry some statements, especially strict ones," Lavrov said.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

By RFE/RL

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