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Putin Hosts Trilateral Meeting With Armenia, Azerbaijan Leaders

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (left), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (center), and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the Kremlin on January 11.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hosted a trilateral meeting in Moscow with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, nearly two months after a Russia-brokered cease-fire agreement ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Following the talks on January 11, Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian issued a joint statement on the Kremlin website announcing the creation of a trilateral working group to oversee the "unblocking of all economic and transport links" in the region.

The group will be jointly chaired by deputy prime ministers from the three countries and will hold its first meeting before January 30, the statement said.

Aliyev called Putin's invitation for the trilateral meeting "very useful and productive," saying afterward that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict "remained in the past."

However, Pashinian said the conflict was still not resolved, insisting that key issues surrounding the conflict were in suspension and needed to be resolved immediately.

"Unfortunately, this conflict is still not settled," he told journalists after talks that lasted nearly four hours.

Putin at the start of the meeting thanked the two leaders for their cooperation with Russia's mediation efforts aimed at "stopping the bloodshed, stabilizing the situation, and achieving a sustainable cease-fire."

Under a cease-fire agreement reached on November 9, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenians. More than 4,700 people were killed in the flare-up of violence.

Putin said that the truce had been successfully implemented, laying the foundation for a fair settlement of the decades-long conflict.

Around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers are deployed along frontline areas and to protect a land link connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. They are also engaged in demining, returning displaced Armenians, and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

Many details of the agreement remain unclear, including the final political status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the exact contours of the border separating the two sides along a still militarized front line, and economic issues.

Pashinian said several issues remained unresolved, and that the meeting did not render a solution to the "most sensitive and painful question" of prisoners of war.

Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged their first prisoners in early December, more than a month after the peace deal was signed.

It remains unclear how many more prisoners the two sides intend to exchange.

The truce agreement envisages a Russian-guarded transport corridor running through southern Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its enclave of Naxcivan, and thereby to its regional ally, Turkey.

Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus region, told RFE/RL in December that it would be "incredibly difficult" for the Armenians to facilitate the creation of such a corridor through their territory.

The trilateral meeting came as Pashinian is under mounting opposition pressure over the cease-fire agreement and loss of territory to Azerbaijan in the war.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the region's population reject Azerbaijani rule.

They had been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region and seven adjacent districts in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

With reporting by dpa, Interfax, TASS, Tagesschau, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service
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