The warring Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian sides reported continued fighting in and around the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh early on November 4, with each side claiming the upper hand along the front line.
Six weeks into a major flare-up in the decades-old conflict, regional powers including Russia were said to be considering ways to encourage a halt to fighting that is thought to have killed up to thousands of people, including many civilians.
The Armenian side claimed early on November 4 to have beaten back an Azerbaijani offensive aimed at taking Shushi, a strategic town overlooking the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
But Azerbaijani officials disputed that account. The Defense Ministry in Baku described fighting of varying intensity in a handful of towns in districts around Nagorno-Karabakh, including Tartar, Aghdam, and Martuni.
On November 3, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry accused Azerbaijani forces of targeting health-care and other civilian facilities.
The Azerbaijani side has rejected accusations that it is intentionally targeting civilians.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on November 4 that Moscow was weighing an Iranian proposal for ending the conflict that was shared by Tehran last week.
"We're looking carefully at it," Rudenko reportedly told journalists.
One day earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said agreements on effective control mechanisms are needed if there is to be a sustainable cease-fire.
Lavrov said such mechanisms could include the use of various electronic devices, a hot line between Yerevan and Baku, observers under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and operations with the participation of military contingents.
“However, it has not yet been possible to agree on all the parameters,” he added in an interview with the Russian Kommersant daily.
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
Russia brokered the first of the three humanitarian cease-fires to halt ongoing military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh on October 10. However, that cease-fire, as well as the two other agreements brokered by France and the United States later last month, collapsed within hours after entering into force.
Russia's top diplomat said that although it was not immediately possible to achieve a sustainable cease-fire, Moscow will “continue to use all its influence in the region to persuade Baku and Yerevan to sit down at the negotiating table.”
“Moscow once again calls on the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and external partners to strictly respect the agreements on cease-fire, the creation of a control mechanism, and the resumption of a substantial negotiation process with a specific timetable,” Lavrov said.
The Russian foreign minister also addressed the issue of mercenaries from the Middle East allegedly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting.
Lavrov once again stressed that Russia is against changing the format of the mediation, which is currently led by Russia, the United States, and France. But, noting the important role and influence of Turkey on Azerbaijan, said that “Moscow is working and will continue to work with Turkey to bring the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table.”
“We will continue to use all the influence we have in the region. We will work with our Turkish partners to stop the further unwinding of the military scenario, establish a dialogue between the parties, and convince Baku and Yerevan to sit down at the negotiating table,” the top Russian diplomat said.
Earlier this week, the Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had separate telephone conversations with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and that “issues of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were discussed in detail.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Rudenko, however, said it is too early to speak about a possible meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
He said negotiations on the settlement of the conflict are being conducted at the expert level, primarily within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The latest fighting began on September 27, escalating quickly to involve heavy artillery, rockets, and drones.
Both parties to the conflict have reported casualties, among them civilians. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.