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Meeting on Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh

November 20, 2020, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region

The President held a meeting on the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, via videoconference.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov and Commander of the Russian Peacekeeping Contingent in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and Deputy Commander of the troops in the Southern Military District Lt-Gen Rustam Muradov.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

I have called this meeting today to return once again to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Conflicts like this, their settlement is particularly important to us. It has special significance for us and plays a special role. These are not empty words for us. I am referring to the fact that millions of Armenians and Azerbaijanis live in Russia. We are linked with their republics by centuries-long ties, without exaggeration. This also has a domestic political dimension for us and is very important for our domestic security and politics. The CIS is our foreign policy priority, an obvious fact for everyone. This matters a lot for the economy as well.

We all know well that we have special relations with these republics: deep cooperation and interchangeability. I will not list all the components of this extremely important direction on the CIS track.

As I said at the November 13 meeting, now the priority task is to support and help the residents of this region who sustained heavy damage from the hostilities.

An Interdepartmental Centre for Humanitarian Response is being created to resolve the problems at hand. I am aware that, given the tasks facing the centre, specialised divisions are now being formed.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out the precise and well-coordinated work of the Russian peacekeepers. Prompt demining has made it possible to establish reliable communications in the region, and deploying our peacekeeping forces made it possible to stop the bloodshed and avoid more casualties. Our military is maintaining effective control over the ceasefire, which is being observed by both sides. Overall, the situation has stabilised.

In addition, the Russian service personnel is escorting refugees and bringing residential buildings, roads, and social facilities up to code. They are ensuring security for convoys with humanitarian supplies as well.

Let me emphasise that our humanitarian efforts and aid should benefit both the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples. We empathise with everyone who is in trouble.

You may be aware that I am in constant touch with my colleagues in Armenia and Azerbaijan. I agreed with both leaders that a Russian interdepartmental delegation consisting of the heads of a number of ministries and departments would be sent to Armenia and Azerbaijan soon. Its goal is to review the most pressing issues of implementing the trilateral statement of November 9, including, of course, humanitarian issues. I hope that the upcoming consultations will help us make significant progress in these areas.

Mobilisation and international assistance are of particular importance. Our peacekeepers have created the basis for this. I am aware that people in many countries are concerned about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and empathise with the people in this plight. However, safe conditions for humanitarian organisations have been created, and there remains much to accomplish.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has the leading role here. Red Cross President Peter Maurer visited Moscow two days ago and confirmed the organisation's readiness to step up its activities in Yerevan, Baku and Stepanakert while relying on support from Russia and Russian peacekeepers.

I consider it important that representatives from other international agencies follow this example. I am referring to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS).

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) will be called on to play a positive role later, when we come to the task of post-conflict recovery.

I would like to emphasise the need to protect historical and religious landmarks, both in Azerbaijan and Armenia. This issue is of great moral and human importance. I believe UNSCO’s involvement is much needed in this respect.

We also hope for UNESCO’s aid to children and teenagers that are particularly defenceless when confronted with the horrors of armed conflicts.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has instructions to work in all of these areas. We expect to receive tangible results in the near future.

Our humanitarian efforts and the involvement of the relevant international agencies will eventually help us find a reliable and long-term political settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We will continue developing cooperation with our partners in the OSCE Minsk Group on this foundation.

I have evaluated our common efforts and hope that our work will continue.

Let us hear the reports. I would first like to hear what you have to say. Based on this, we will agree on the next steps.

Mr Shoigu, please.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,

Under your executive order, the Russian peacekeeping contingent has been deployed on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and has begun implementing its tasks. The 15th detached motorised infantry brigade units that form the backbone of the peacekeeping contingent have been prepared and transferred to the conflict zone. In all, 250 flights have been made to carry 1,960 people and 552 units of equipment.

Today, the Lachin corridor and the Nagorno-Karabakh territory are fully controlled by Russian peacekeeping units. They are monitoring the ceasefire from 23 observation posts. A control system for prompt response to any change in the situation has been deployed to carry out the peacekeeping mission. General Headquarters has coordinated and established direct communication channels with the military departments of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Since November 14, Russian peacekeepers have ensured the safe return of 4,436 refugees to Stepanakert, those who fled the conflict zone earlier. We have established cooperation with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani parties are exchanging bodies of military personnel under the coordinating role of the Russian peacekeepers. The Lachin corridor and a 28 km section of the road to Stepanakert have been fully cleared of mines, other explosive devices and combat hardware destroyed during the hostilities. Safe civilian traffic has been opened on this section since November 17.

As for implementing the memorandum on creating a joint Russian-Turkish centre in Azerbaijan for monitoring the ceasefire and combat activities, we are finishing our talks with the Turkish representatives on the location and tasks of this centre.

The measures taken by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will ensure unconditional implementation of the trilateral statement and facilitate stabilisation in the region, helping Armenian and Azerbaijani residents return to peaceful life in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,

I would like to ask you to give the floor to the Commander of the Peacekeeping Contingent Lt-Gen Muradov who will report on the local situation in more detail.

Vladimir Putin: Please, Mr Muradov, go ahead.

Commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief, good afternoon.

Commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov reporting.

The Russian peacekeeping contingent, in line with the set objectives, is supervising the implementation of the agreements on the ceasefire and all hostilities along the contact line between the two parties in Nagorno-Karabakh.

No ceasefire violations or provocations have been recorded. Some small incidents are being settled by peacekeeping contingent representatives on the ground. For this purpose, cooperation with the commands of the conflicting parties in the zones of operation and the municipal authorities has been established.

The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has been divided into zones of responsibility. The northern zone is monitored from 11 observation posts by the 1st Battalion of the 15th Motorised Rifle Brigade. The southern zone in the Lachin Corridor, by the 2nd Battalion from 12 observation posts. A command post has been established in the city of Stepanakert from which the peacekeeping forces are controlled. The observation posts have been provided with all forms of communication, including closed, satellite and video conferencing. Work is underway on providing them with mobile video monitoring equipment, which will allow for distant all-round observation including at night.

In addition, drones are being used around the clock to monitor the situation. Russian peacekeeping personnel are being provided with rations, pay and allowances in accordance with the current standards.

Comrade Commander-in-Chief, today, in strict compliance with the trilateral statement, the Peacekeeping Command, with the Russian peacekeepers, has completed the mission on withdrawing the Armenian armed units from Agdam district, which was surrendered to the Azerbaijani side.

The Russian peacekeepers understand the full responsibility of the objectives set before them and are ready to pursue them in strict compliance with the instructions issued by you and the Defence Minister.

Comrade Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant General Muradov’s report is complete.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Muradov, after the Armenian units withdraw from some of the districts, say, Agdam and Lachin, Armenian civilians will remain there.

Obviously, our peacekeepers are on the contact line, but I know that you have good relations with both sides, the Armenian and the Azerbaijani sides. The people who occupy the positions abandoned by the Armenian army – of course, they are conflicting parties, yet the conflict is over, they are civilised people anyway. I know that the prevailing mood among them is friendly, but we must establish communication with both sides, in this case with the Azerbaijan side, so that the situation in the liberated areas can remain stable and can facilitate conditions for living together for the people of both ethnicities without any individual conflicts. This is definitely the responsibility of the Azerbaijani side in the full sense of this word.

I know the commitments of Azerbaijan’s President. This is exactly how he approaches the organisation of this future work, from exactly this kind of position. But at the first stage you must also establish contacts with both sides so as to have information about the developments, and to exchange this information in a timely manner with both the Armenian side and our Azeri colleagues.

Rustam Muradov: Yes, Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief.

Vladimir Putin: The same goes for historical, cultural and religious heritage sites. I spoke with Mr Aliyev, and he also proceeds from the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities will take everything under control and will ensure access to these religious facilities for both Armenians and, of course, Azerbaijanis. One of them is within your control area, it is one of the oldest Christian monasteries. We have to ensure access for both Armenians and Azeris. There are Christians in Azerbaijan as well, and this is one of the oldest Christian churches. All of that must be taken into account, and a proper schedule of operations must be arranged during contacts with both sides. Thank you.

Mr Lavrov, please tell us about the work with our partners abroad.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President, colleagues,

During these days, since November 13, we have been in close contact with the American and French co-chairs, who visited Moscow. I met with them, and my colleagues met with them as well.

We provided them with full information that has confirmed once again that the agreement reached by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed on November 9 is in full consonance with the principles that were agreed upon in the past few years by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and received broad support throughout the world.

Mr President, at the current stage we are focusing on the work with international organisations per your instructions. This is primarily the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its president, Peter Maurer, visited Moscow and discussed in detail the situation and prospects for our cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Emergencies Ministry and our other agencies that are involved in this work in various ways.

The Red Cross is unique because it has representative offices in Yerevan, Baku and Stepanakert. They had to leave Stepanakert during the hostilities but came back several days ago. They are interested in very close contacts with our peacekeepers and the International Humanitarian Response Centre. You have set us these tasks, and we are guided by them in all of our actions.

More work must be done with UN agencies, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and UNESCO. These agencies are not always represented in the region, but they are working on it.

It is important to receive from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees authentic statistics on the number of people who need aid. In tentative estimate, these are about 90,000 people who left for Armenia and about 45,000 Azerbaijanis who left the districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh during the hostilities.

Of course, this office is interested in receiving support from all relevant parties so they can start their work, helping those who had to leave their homes to return, and at the same time preventing forced expulsion from homes as it could happen in Shushi. In general, this town has not sustained heavy damage and many people from Azerbaijan are now moving there now. Our peacekeepers are actively facilitating these processes.

Finally, there is a separate issue – the so-called historical refugees from Azerbaijan who left the region during the war of 1992–1994.

The World Food Programme has received an official invitation from Yerevan. At the same time, they established contact with Azerbaijan although the WFP has had no office in Baku since 2013. However, a proposal on food support has already been sent to Baku, among other places.

Today, I spoke with UNESCO Director-General Ms Azoulay. She published a statement today on her intention to send a special UNESCO mission to the conflict zone to assess the situation on site and determine what needs to be done to restore and protect historical landmarks and religious sites, and to provide assistance in education. Of course, this help will be provided to both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

We believe that all UN agencies we both mentioned must be encouraged to be more active in offering help to the sides. They know about their potentials in this respect better than anyone else does. We urged our US and French co-chairs and other members of the OSCE Minsk Group and the UN Security Council to do all they can to encourage these activities by international agencies.

Regretfully, we feel that there is a tendency to try to slow down the implementation of the November 9 Statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, to prevent that Statement from completely materialising even though everyone has to admit that it is being successfully implemented. We also see attempts to alter the nature of the peacekeeping operation, so far behind the scenes. The attempts are subtle so far but they do exist.

Our task is as follows. Together with the Defence Ministry, Emergencies Ministry and our border guards we are assessing the situation on the ground and respectively correlating the signals we send to international organisations encouraging them to more actively offer their capabilities for an early settlement of humanitarian issues, issues of preserving the cultural heritage in the region.

My report is complete. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

I did not expect to hear what you said about the tendency to slow down the implementation of the trilateral Statement by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Those who are trying to do that must realise the only alternative to it can be only another war. God forbid, but if this happens, the blood will be on their hands, on the hands of those who are attempting to undermine these agreements. Everyone must understand and be aware of that.

Moreover, we often hear words of sympathy and readiness to help people, especially and primarily civilians who are in the conflict zone and were affected by it. However, very often the words are not followed by anything else.

I would like to ask you as well to promptly analyse the situation and try to understand what the people in the conflict zone, the victims and those in need of urgent help, can really expect. Meanwhile, I would like to orient our representatives, including those in the humanitarian centre we are establishing, towards actively facilitating, with direct engagement of the Defence Ministry, all forces, all public and international organisations in pursuing this noble cause – rendering assistance to the people who are now in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.

Mr Bortnikov, our border guards also serve in this region. How are things with the work of our border guard service?

Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov: Mr President,

Under the adopted decision, in order to ensure the border security of the Republic of Armenia and the peacekeeping measures in Nagorno-Karabakh, and upon the request of the Armenian side, the Border Guard Directorate of the Federal Security Service allocated an additional reserve unit of 188 service members and with the necessary equipment in the Republic of Armenia. The border guards will deploy additional forces on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the area and at the established posts in Tegh and Sygyr. The Azerbaijani side has been informed about this. The necessary cooperation with our partners has been established.

From November 18 to 20, the Aviation Directorate of the Federal Security Service and the Defence Ministry have been moving the reserve unit to the Republic of Armenia. At present, the coordination of forces is underway. On November 22, the reserve will move towards the area of their responsibility and will begin fulfilling its tasks.

An operative group of the Federal Security Service will be deployed to command and control the reserve unit as well as to interact and coordinate actions with the inter-agency humanitarian response centre and the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation at the point of the 127th border guard unit in the city of Meghri. Contacts in terms of cooperation with special services of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as border guard services have been established, and information exchange is ongoing. We proceed form the understanding of the position both our partners and we are in.

Mr President, there are no urgent issues arising at the moment.

My report is complete.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

I presume you have established contacts with the Azerbaijani side as well, with our colleagues from Azerbaijan.

Alexander Bortnikov: Exactly. We are in contact, in a 24-hour information exchange regime.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Situations has set to work, including on establishing the humanitarian response centre. I know that a group of Emergencies Ministry representatives is already there.

Mr Zinichev, please tell us how you asses everything that has been done and what you think needs to be done in the short term.

Emergencies Minster Yevgeny Zinichev: Mr President,

As per your executive order, the Emergencies Ministry has set up work as part of the inter-agency humanitarian response centre. To assess the situation and prepare the sites for deploying the projected Emergencies Ministry personnel, an operative task force of the ministry has been working in the peacekeeping zone since November 16. At present, the task force has organised interaction with the emergency services of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Members of the task force are rendering methodological and practical assistance in the work of the assessment commission that identifies the nature of the damage and the amount of work to be done.

Preliminary data shows that 284 structures have been totally destroyed in 43 settlements of Nagorno-Karabakh. The types and features of the destroyed buildings are currently being specified. A need for glazing and roofing is noted in view of the nature of the damage to the buildings and facilities.

The first humanitarian convoy departed today to the affected areas. Also, 300 tonnes of construction materials are being loaded from the State Reserve storage facilities in Rostov Region for another convoy of 30 lorries. The convoy is scheduled to leave tomorrow morning, on November 21.

Mr President, at present a significant number of displaced persons is expected to arrive in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to various estimates, the number may reach up to 30,000 people. Meanwhile, the existing infrastructure allows for settling about 5,000 people. Various options are being considered to settle the remaining population, including construction of pre-fabricated housing units.

In addition, in view of the global situation with the coronavirus spread, we are drafting a list of medications and medical equipment to be delivered, as well medical supplies and pharmaceuticals for essential needs.

Mr President, currently the Emergencies Ministry is forming a combined task force for operating within the inter-agency humanitarian response centre. It will comprise rescuers, psychologists and technical personnel. If needed, ordnance technicians will be sent there to defuse unexploded ordnance in residential areas. The Emergencies Ministry is ready to fulfil the set tasks. My report is complete.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak is participating in our work. Mr Novak, I do not ask you for a report now, but I do want to draw your attention to the fact that winter is coming, the terrain there is mountainous and it can get very cold, and cold weather is approaching, so these issues should be addressed in contact with the Armenian side. I want you to consider this and report separately on this issue later.

Everything we have just discussed needs to be funded. In this context, I ask the Finance Ministry to join in, and work out with the agencies all the issues that may emerge in the nearest future. Mr Siluanov, could you please say a few words about this.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov: Yes, indeed, Mr President, we have been in touch with our Armenian colleagues from the Finance Ministry. They asked us for assistance, primarily in terms of financial provision of social assistance to the people who lost their homes due the previous developments.

We are drafting proposals. They will be reported to you separately. We will be ready for financial cooperation with our partners. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Please report to me separately after you have worked everything out.

I would like to thank the participants of the meeting for the work you have done to this point. I would also like to ask you to continue fulfilling your tasks on maintaining peace in the region, to maintain close contact with both Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives, ensure the active performance of the Interdepartmental Humanitarian Response Centre and use its great potential in full measure.

This intensive work must be aimed at the final result, and providing assistance to real people, those who need this help now, can be the final result.

Thank you very much.

November 20, 2020, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region