YEREVAN—Amid a frenzied attempt to maintain the seemingly nonexistent ceasefire established over the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with the European Union on Tuesday following Monday’s meeting with Armenia’s FM Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
In his talks with Lavrov, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell underscored the strict observance of the ceasefire and expressed the EU’s full support of the OSCE Minsk Group. Borrell said he has been in contact with the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and wants both sides to re-engage in “meaningful negotiations without preconditions.” The EU has been expressing concern over the fragile truce’s longevity due to reports of continued fighting in several areas of Artsakh overnight, including renewed artillery strikes on Stepanakert and Hadrut, the latter of which having withstood yet another desperate attack by Azeri forces almost four days after Aliyev tweeted its capture.
Baku has been insisting on Turkey’s admission as an OSCE Minsk-Group co-chair, causing a delay in the original cease-fire negotiations. Both Russia and Armenia have firmly rejected that proposal. In Baku, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told Haber Global on Monday that the presence of influential Armenian Diasporas in France, Russia and the United States rendered the three co-chairs biased, insisting that Turkey’s incorporation into the body would provide balance. “Turkey’s active role is currently reflected in military support for Azerbaijan and the presence of terrorists in the region,” Mnatsakanyan said of the petition in Moscow.
On the frontlines, Armenia’s Armed Forces were confronted by a large scale assault in several directions on Tuesday, especially from the north. “Our troops were able to repel and throw back the enemy, causing a lot of loss,” said Defense Ministry representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan during his daily press briefing. Of interest to Hovhannisyan was a “subversive” military strategy by Azeri forces in which, he explained, they quickly penetrate settlements, raise their flags and document the process “to have a psychological impact on their own society and our society.” Hovhannisyan described the entire operation as propaganda. For example, a video circulating on social media showing Azeri special forces hoisting the Azeri flag on the mayor’s office in central Hadrut was quickly proven to have actually been filmed on location at the Taghaser Community Center. That building, which was constructed by the Armenia Fund in 2018, lies several miles southwest of Hadrut, which Armenian officials say, remains firmly under Armenian control.
The OSCE Minsk Group, for its part, issued a statement today, noting with “alarm” the ongoing violence in the region. The co-chairs also called for an immediate implementation of Saturday’s humanitarian ceasefire, which would allow for the retrieval of military casualties under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which, in a statement by Eurasia Regional Director Martin Schuepp today insisted that the “operational and logistical arrangements must be in place and the safety of [their] teams guaranteed for the operation to begin.” “The sides must agree on a format between themselves,” continued the statement. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called on both sides to abide by the humanitarian ceasefire. “We deplore the loss of human life and remain committed to a peaceful settlement,” he tweeted.
In Stepanakert, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan signed an amendment to the Law on the Defense of Artsakh to facilitate the integration of volunteer militia units—mostly formed by veterans from the 1988-1994 war—into the military command structure in order to better coordinate their effectiveness in the war. In his announcement, the President said, “The participation of each and every individual in the war effort does make a difference.”