The future of the Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is unclear after Azerbaijan regained control of most of the territory following a six-week war in 2020.
The Kremlin said on Monday that the fate of the mission, which consists of nearly 2,000 troops and 90 armored vehicles, would be determined by Russia and Azerbaijan, which signed a ceasefire agreement brokered by Moscow on November 10, 2020.
The Russian peacekeepers are deployed along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor, a strategic road that connects the region’s capital, Stepanakert, to Armenia.
The mission is supposed to last for five years, with a possible extension if both parties agree. However, some analysts have suggested that Azerbaijan may seek to end the Russian presence sooner, as it considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be its sovereign territory and wants to reintegrate the Armenian population of the region.
At the time of deployment of the Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev faced criticism but he justified his peacekeepers deal that after the resolution of the conflict Russian troops must have to leave.
The peacekeeping operation has also faced criticism from Armenia, which accused Russia of failing to intervene when Azerbaijan launched a surprise offensive on September 20, 2023, that captured several villages and a monastery in the Hadrut province of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The clashes resulted in dozens of casualties and thousands of displaced civilians, mostly ethnic Armenians who fled to Armenia or other parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned of “ethnic cleansing” in the region and called for international action.
Russia has denied any wrongdoing and said that its peacekeepers are fulfilling their mandate to monitor the ceasefire and assist in humanitarian efforts. The Russian forces have helped to exchange prisoners and bodies of fallen soldiers, as well as to clear mines and unexploded ordnance from the region. Russia has also cooperated with Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the war, to establish a joint monitoring center near Aghdam, where 60 servicemen from both countries use drones to oversee the situation.
The UN refugee agency has reported that more than 88,000 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh since the war broke out in 2020, and the total could reach 120,000, matching the pre-war population of the region. The agency said it is ready to cope with the influx and provide humanitarian aid and protection to the refugees. However, many of them have expressed uncertainty and fear about their future, as they have lost their homes and livelihoods in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some have also expressed resentment towards Russia for not doing enough to protect them.