Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s Emanuel Macron have called for an immediate ceasefire between ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, as the official death toll has passed 100 and both sides have said they will continue fighting.
“Vladimir Putin and Emanuel Macron call on the warring parties to stop the fire completely and to end the tension as soon as possible and show maximum restraint,” the Kremlin said in a statement early Thursday.
The Kremlin said in a statement that in a telephone conversation at Macron’s initiative, the two leaders “discussed the concrete dimensions of first and foremost further cooperation within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.”
The Kremlin added that the leader expressed readiness to view the statement on behalf of Russia, France and the United States, co-chairs of the Minsk Group. .
The two sides are engaged in the heaviest fighting of years over the ethnic Armenian province of Kerabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
So far, Armenia and Azerbaijan have rejected international calls for talks.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has vowed to continue fighting until Armenian troops withdraw from Karabakh.
Visiting the wounded soldiers on Wednesday, he said, “If the Armenian government meets the demand, the fighting and bloodshed will end, and peace will be established in the region.”
‘Preparing for a Long War’
For his part, Armenian Prime Minister Nicole Pashinyan said it was “not very appropriate” to talk of negotiations “at a time of intense hostility”.
In the Armenian capital Yerevan, dozens of men gathered outside the recruiting office to join the fight.
“We need to prepare for a long-term war,” Karabakh leader Areik Harutyunyan said on Wednesday.
Two explosions were heard around midnight on Thursday in Stepanecart, the capital of the broken province.
Residents told the AFP news agency that the city was attacked by a drone.
The streets were dark as public lighting was turned off, although some shops remained open in the city, which local officials said was the first time a fight had broken out on Sunday.
The official death toll has topped 100, including civilians, with both sides claiming heavy losses on the other side.
There have been 104 military deaths and 23 civilian deaths in Armenia.
It was claimed that 130 soldiers were lost in Azerbaijan while another 200 were wounded.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry responded by saying its forces had killed 2,300 Karabakh soldiers and destroyed “130 tanks, 200 artillery units, 25 anti-aircraft units, five ammunition depots, 50 anti-tank units, 55 military vehicles.”
With Baku and Yerevan refusing to negotiate, fears have arisen that the conflict could escalate into a full-blown war, which could also drag regional powers such as Turkey and Russia.
Moscow, which has a military agreement with Armenia and good relations with Azerbaijan, has repeatedly called for an end to hostilities and offered to host talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s “readiness” to hold a meeting.
But neither leader showed signs of being ready for talks.
“We’re close to seeing a large-scale war, perhaps even on a regional level,” said Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group.
Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 people, but the area is not recognized by any country, including Armenia.
Talks for a settlement of the conflict have largely stalled since the 1994 ceasefire agreement.