Putin hosting Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in the Kremlin on January 11. Official photo.

Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan will set up a trilateral inter-government commission to discuss unblocking of rail and other links between Azerbaijan and Armenia, according to the joint statement issued by Vladimir Putin, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev on January 11. The commission is supposed to meet in the coming weeks.

The three met in the Kremlin for four hours, in a meeting that has been in preparation for the last two weeks. Notably, this was the first trip outside of Azerbaijan for Aliyev since the Covid-19-related restrictions were introduced ten months ago, and only the second trip outside Armenia for Pashinyan, since his July trip to Belarus.

Prior to the trip, Pashinyan identified the return of Armenian prisoners of war and hostages – with more than a hundred of them still being held in spite of “all-for-all” exchange announced in mid-December – as the main objective of the trip. After the release of Azerbaijanis held by Armenia, Aliyev refused to return more Armenian prisoners, calling them “terrorists.”

[Update: On January 12, Siranush Sahakyan, a lawyer representing POW families, reported that there was evidence of at least 120 prisoners of war and civilian hostages captured and not yet returned by Azerbaijan, including two women.]

Return of the prisoners was one of the main agreements of the November 10 cease-fire, which Putin claimed today “were being consistently implemented.” In particular, he highlighted the fact that more than 48,000 Karabakh residents returned to Karabakh since the cease-fire. Putin did not mention how many left Karabakh in the same period, including more than 10,000 displaced from Kelbajar, Lachin and other territories handed over as part of the trilateral agreement.