Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has announced that his country’s troops had moved into the strategic city of Lachin to replace Russian peacekeepers stationed there in line with a peace deal signed with Armenia in 2020.
“We, the Azerbaijanis, have returned to Lachin. Azerbaijan’s army is now stationed in the city of Lachin. The villages of Zabukh and Sus were taken under control,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Footage released by the defence ministry showed what it said were Azerbaijani army vehicles moving into the city and the national flag waving over a main building.
Lachin lies in a narrow strip of land in a mountainous region that is the only transit option between Armenia and Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan, had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
That conflict left not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but large chunks of surrounding lands in Armenian hands.
But in renewed fighting that began on September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan troops routed the Armenian forces and wedged deep into Nagorno-Karabakh.
Their advance forced Armenia to accept a Russia-brokered peace deal on November 10, 2020, that saw the return to Azerbaijan of a significant part of the separatist region.
It also obliged Armenia to hand over all of the areas it held outside Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russia deployed nearly 2,000 soldiers to monitor the peace deal and help assist with the return of refugees.
Violence flared up earlier this month as clashes between ethnic Armenian separatists and Azerbaijani forces.