- Borislav Ivanov
War News: Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a second ceasefire agreement
A senior official declared a ceasefire agreement hours after the defense ministry reported firing had halted, but Azerbaijan has yet to acknowledge that.
According to a senior Armenian official, Armenia and Azerbaijan have negotiated a ceasefire to halt a sudden outbreak of violence that has killed 155 troops on both sides.
In televised remarks, Armen Grigoryan, secretary of Armenia's Security Council, declared the truce, stating it had taken effect hours earlier, at 8 p.m. local time (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday. A previous truce mediated by Russia on Tuesday was immediately broken.
Several hours before Grigoryan's declaration, Armenia's Defense Ministry stated that firing had ceased, but no ceasefire deal was mentioned.
Azerbaijan has not responded to the agreement.
The truce came after two days of severe fighting between the two longstanding foes, which represented the bloodiest outbreak of violence in over two years.
Thousands of demonstrators marched to the streets of Yerevan, Armenia's capital, late Wednesday, accusing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of abandoning his country by appeasing Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation.
Armenia and Azerbaijan blamed each other for the fighting, with Armenian officials accusing Baku of unjustified aggression and Azerbaijani officials claiming their nation was responding to Armenian bombardment.
Pashinyan said 105 of his country's soldiers were killed since the combat began early Tuesday, while Azerbaijan stated 50 were slain. Authorities in Azerbaijan have declared that they are willing to hand over the remains of up to 100 Armenian troops unilaterally.
Since a separatist war there concluded in 1994, the ex-Soviet nations have been involved in a decades-long struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the authority of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
Azerbaijan recaptured vast sections of Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby territory held by Armenian forces after a six-week conflict in 2020. More than 6,700 people were killed in the battle, which ended with a peace agreement sponsored by Russia. Under the terms of the agreement, Moscow sent around 2,000 troops to the region to act as peacekeepers.
The achieved peace was primarily the consequence of Russian diplomatic efforts, according to Grigory Karasin, a prominent member of Russia's upper chamber of parliament.
President Vladimir Putin, he added, had talked to Pashinyan and urged him to be calm.
Pashinyan informed Armenia's parliament that his administration had requested military aid from Russia under a friendship treaty between the two nations, as well as assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
"Our partners are Russia and the CSTO," Pashinyan said, adding that the collective security treaty specifies that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
"We don't consider military action as the only option; there are other political and diplomatic options," Pashinyan stated in his country's parliament. He told lawmakers that Armenia is willing to recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity in a future peace deal if it gives up control of places in Armenia that its soldiers have taken.
Some in the opposition saw the comments as Pashinyan's willingness to capitulate to Azerbaijani demands and recognize Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of outraged protestors stormed the government's offices, accusing Pashinyan of treason and demanding his resignation.
Pashinyan, who said that Azeri forces had captured 10 square kilometers of Armenian land since the battle began last week, dismissed rumors that he had signed an agreement accepting Azerbaijani demands as "informational sabotage perpetrated by hostile forces."
Moscow is performing a difficult balancing act in order to retain positive relations with both countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union.
It retains tight economic and security relations with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military station, but also with oil-rich Azerbaijan.
According to some analysts, the commencement of violence was an attempt by Azerbaijan to push Armenian authorities to follow some of the requirements of the 2020 peace agreement, such as the opening of transit channels across its territory more quickly.
"Because Azerbaijan has greater military power, it seeks to dictate its terms to Armenia and use force to press for the diplomatic outcomes it desires," stated Sergei Markedonov, a Russian specialist on the South Caucasus area, in a commentary.
Markedonov stated that the present conflict coincided with Russia's departure from parts of northeastern Ukraine following a Ukrainian counteroffensive and that Armenia's appeal for assistance put Russia in a bind.
In a late-night phone call, Putin and other CSTO leaders addressed the issue and resolved to dispatch a delegation of top CSTO officials to the region.
Putin is scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Samarkand on Friday on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security organization dominated by Russia and China. The Armenian government said that Pashinyan, who was also scheduled to attend the summit, would be unable to participate owing to the country's current situation.
A group of MPs from Armenia petitioned the Biden administration in Washington.
Adam Schiff, the influential Democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee, and four other members of Congress urged the White House and State Department to "unequivocally denounce Azerbaijan's activities and discontinue any support" to Azerbaijan.