Putin discusses Karabakh talks on Nov. 17, 2020. Official photo

In a state TV appearance, Russian president Vladimir Putin revealed that Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev agreed to a cease fire and Russian peacekeeping presence on October 20 and on more favorable terms for the Armenian side than eventually agreed on November 9. However, at the time Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan refused the terms, particularly the clause on return of Azerbaijani civilians to Shushi.

Following the refusal, fighting continued culminating in the Azerbaijani capture of Shushi between November 5-7. Putin noted that until its capture, Shushi’s transfer to Azerbaijani control was not on the table. Putin also repeated Russia’s position that deploying forces in Karabakh was not possible without Aliyev’s agreement or an international mandate.

Earlier in the day, chief of the Armenian General Staff Gen. Onik Gasparyan issued a statement recalling that already in June 2020 he briefed Pashinyan and other government officials that from now on Turkey was expected to be directly involved in supporting Azerbaijan militarily and that since Armenia was unable to counter Turkey’s military on its own, all steps had to be taken to avoid or postpone a new war.

Days after the launch of the Turkish-Azerbaijani attack, on September 30, 2020, Gasparyan told Armenia’s political leadership that considering the intensity of fighting and losses suffered by the Armenian forces, the war had to be stopped within days or risk the collapse of the Defense Army. The Turkish-Azerbaijani side linked any permanent cease-fire to Armenian withdrawal from previously Azerbaijani district around former autonomy borders of Nagorno Karabakh, which Pashinyan at the time refused to agree to.

NKR president Arayik Harutyunyan kept a busy Tuesday. Earlier in the day, together with the Russian commander Gen. Rustam Muradov Harutyunyan visited the Lisagor community southwest of Shushi, as Russian peacekeepers worked to de-mine stretches of the Stepanakert-Goris highway that was expected to reopen today but did not. In the afternoon, Harutyunyan convened a government meeting that announced a number of measures to encourage continued return of Artsakh residents to Stepanakert and other communities, in particular suspension of utility and communication services payments for the coming year, and financial support for low-income families and those left homeless.

Harutyunyan also met with senior officials from Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Management (MES), who established a humanitarian support center in Ivanyan (located between Stepanakert and Askeran) to coordinate Russian government’s assistance programs in Karabakh. Current Russian MES staff in Karabakh includes 30 people.

Harutyunyan also revealed that his family members returned to Stepanakert and that he encouraged other government officials to return their families to Artsakh as well.

Meantime, the Defense Army of Artsakh denied media reports of continued clashes in the south of Martuni district and elsewhere, reporting that the cease-fire was holding.