There are no more Azerbaijani prisoners in Armenia, but there are Armenian prisoners in Azerbaijan, in part because the Armenian government “did not present a complete list of Armenian prisoners in time” for the prisoners’ exchange that took place in mid-December, said the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in his annual review press conference on January 18, when asked about the issue by Armenia’s Shant TV. Nevertheless, Lavrov added that in their contacts he and president Putin continue to raise the issue of Armenian prisoners’ release, based on the principle of “all-for-all.”

The Armenian government has refused to make public its estimate of the number of Armenian prisoners in Azerbaijan. Lawyer Siranush Sahakyan, working on behalf of prisoners’ families, said that based on video and other evidence at least 120 prisoners and hostages, including two women, are still being held; most of them captured after the November 10 cease-fire.

Release of Armenian hostages held by Azerbaijan has been difficult in the past, particularly without some kind of a trade-off. In one case in 2019 Azerbaijan agreed to release Marat Ueldanov, a Russian citizen of Armenian descent, only after effectively exchanging him for an ethnic Talysh activist Fahraddin Abbasov, who was deported by Russia. Abbasov has since died in an Azerbaijani prison, with officials claiming he committed suicide.

Lavrov was also asked about the possibility of Karabakh’s incorporation into the Russian Federation. He called the proposal “exotic” and denied that it was being “even remotely considered.” Lavrov added that the OSCE Minsk Group will continue to deal with the issue of Karabakh’s future status, but according to the minister the “status issue is not currently a priority.”

Answering a question from the Azerbaijani state media, referencing Aliyev’s opposition to Armenian officials’ visits to Karabakh “without permission.” Lavrov noted that Armenia must have a link with Karabakh and Armenian officials are “involved in humanitarian activities” and should be able to visit Karabakh. “This is why the Lachin corridor exists.” At the same time, these Armenian officials should avoid “politicized” declarations that could cause tensions, the minister suggested.