Russia urged Azerbaijan to fully unblock the Lachin corridor on Friday, the only road that links Armenia with the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave where more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians live and rely on it for vital supplies.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians. The enclave broke away from Baku’s control in a war in the early 1990s.
After heavy fighting and a Russian-brokered cease-fire, Azerbaijan in 2020 took over areas that had been controlled by ethnic Armenians in and around the mountain enclave, and Baku is now pushing for ethnic Armenian government and military structures to be dissolved and for the population to accept Azerbaijani passports.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Friday that the entrance to the corridor had been blocked by Azerbaijan in a move she said increased tensions at a time when Baku and Armenia are trying to agree to a peace treaty.
There have been reports that the road was totally closed after June 15, when shots were fired in an incident in which the South Caucasus countries said in separate statements that one Azerbaijani and one Armenian border guard had been wounded.
“Such steps lead to increased tension and are not conducive to maintaining a normal atmosphere around the ongoing process of normalizing relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia with Russian assistance. We call on Baku to unblock the Lachin corridor in its entirety,” said Zakharova.
Baku has denied imposing a blockade but has said it has taken what it called “relevant measures to investigate the reasons for this provocation, as well as to ensure the security of the border checkpoint.”
Azerbaijan in April established a checkpoint at the entrance to the corridor following months of disruption caused by people who called themselves Azerbaijani environmental activists, a step it said was essential due to what it cast as Armenia’s use of the road to transport weapons.
Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire banker who was a top official in Karabakh’s separatist government until February, on Thursday accused Baku of trying to “ethnically cleanse” the enclave by imposing what he called a goods and energy blockade — allegations that Azerbaijan denies.
Azerbaijan’s foreign minister told Reuters in an interview that Baku was rejecting a demand from Armenia to provide special security guarantees for the enclave’s ethnic Armenians ahead of a new round of peace talks, saying they were sufficiently protected.