Russia Steps Up Diplomatic Efforts To Stop Latest Nagorno-Karabakh Fighting

YEREVAN/BAKU -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a pause in hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone in order for the two sides to exchange prisoners and the bodies of people killed. Putin...

Russia Steps Up Diplomatic Efforts To Stop Latest Nagorno-Karabakh Fighting

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a pause in hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone in order for the two sides to exchange prisoners and the bodies of people killed. Putin raised the possibility of a pause in the fighting after a series of telephone conversations with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the Kremlin’s press service said in a statement on October 8.

Putin also invited the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to Moscow on October 9 to hold consultations on the situation with the mediation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. U.S., Russian, and French officials have been holding talks in Geneva to try to halt the fighting and avert a wider war in the South Caucasus. Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov was due to attend the session on October 8, but no information was available about results of his meeting, according to Reuters, which said no direct meetings have been scheduled between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was also part of the diplomat effort on October 8.

He spoke by phone with his Azeri counterpart, Prime Minister Ali Asadov, to underscore the importance of stabilizing the situation and restarting negotiations seeking a political and diplomatic settlement, according to TASS. Renewed clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh erupted on September 27.

The fighting, which has involved the use of heavy artillery, warplanes, and drones, has continued despite numerous international calls for a cease-fire. Earlier on October 8 Armenia accused Azerbaijan of shelling a historic cathedral in territory controlled by ethnic-Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Residents of the town of Susha said that the Holy Savior Cathedral sustained exterior and interior damage after being hit twice within several hours. An RFE/RL correspondent reported that women and children were inside the cathedral at the time of the first shelling, but nobody was wounded. Three Russian journalists were reportedly wounded in the second attack. One of them was said to be hospitalized in critical condition.

Also known as the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, the 19th century building is part of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is perched on a strategic clifftop in Susha just a few kilometers south of Stepanakert -- Nagorno-Karabakh’s largest city. Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry denied attacking the cathedral, saying its army "doesn't target historical, cultural, especially religious buildings and monuments." Baku said earlier that Armenian forces had attacked several Azerbaijani towns and villages the night before, causing casualties.

The fighting marks the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict since a shaky cease-fire was reached in 1994. Yerevan and Baku accuse each other of expanding the hostilities beyond Nagorno-Karabakh and of targeting civilians. Nagorno-Karabakh's military says 350 of its soldiers have been killed since September 27. Azerbaijan, which is backed by Turkey, hasn't provided details about its military losses. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. But it has been under the control of Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces since the 1994 cease-fire brought an end to the separatist war that broke out during the late 1980s. With reporting by Reuters and TASS