Russia has denounced “public attacks” on its peacekeepers deployed around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan as “unacceptable”, a day after Armenia accused the contingent of failing to fulfil their duties amid a blockade there.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Friday warned the criticism levelled by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan a day earlier threatened to “cause tangible harm to the process of Armenian-Azerbaijani normalisation”.
“We consider any public attacks and provocations against our peacekeepers as unacceptable,” Zakharova said.
“Russian peacekeepers are doing everything possible to improve the situation on the ground,” she added.
On Thursday, Armenian news site Hetq quoted Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as accusing the Russian peacekeeping force of “becoming a silent witness to the depopulation of Nagorno-Karabakh”, having failed to reopen the only road between Armenia and the predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave in recent weeks.
Azeri civilians identifying themselves as environmental activists have blockaded the road – known as the Lachin corridor – since December 12. Nagorno-Karabakh officials say food, medicine and fuel are running short.
The Azeri government says the protest – ostensibly over illegal mining in the region – is spontaneous and civilian transport is able to move freely in both directions between Armenia and Karabakh.
But Yerevan has accused Baku of staging the demonstrations.
Pashinyan said that if the Russian troops were unable to ensure stability and security in the contested region, they should make way for a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The current dispute marks the latest flashpoint in decades of tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The mountainous enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenian.
It broke away from Baku’s control in a war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the former Soviet Union was disintegrating. About 30,000 people died in the conflict.
In 2020, Azerbaijan retook territory in and around the territory after a second war that ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers along the Lachin corridor.
The leaders of both countries have met several times since to try and hammer out a treaty intended to establish lasting peace.
No such agreement has been reached yet and violations of the 2020 truce remain commonplace, with more than 200 soldiers killed on both sides during a flare-up of fighting in September.