Russia tells Armenia and Azerbaijan to de-escalate after deadly border clash

A photo taken in October last year shows artillery fired during fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia on Tuesday (Nov 16) urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to step back from confrontation after a border clash in which Yerevan said 15 of its soldiers had been killed, 12 captured, and two combat positions had been lost.

Armenia had earlier asked Russia to help defend it against Azerbaijan after the clash, the worst fighting since a 44-day war last year fought between ethnic Armenian forces and the Azeri army over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave which killed at least 6,500 people and ended in a victory for Azerbaijan.

That conflict ended after Russia brokered a peace deal and deployed almost 2,000 peacekeepers to the region. Turkey took the side of Azerbaijan, which took back swathes of land it had lost in an earlier conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan discussed the situation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in a phone call on Tuesday, the Kremlin said, without elaborating.

Earlier, Russia Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke by phone to his Armenian and Azeri counterparts and called on them to cease all hostilities, the Interfax news agency quoted the ministry as saying.

The Armenian defence ministry, in a series of statements carried by Armenian and Russian news agencies, said its troops had come under fire from Azeri artillery, small arms and armour.

It said 15 of its soldiers had been killed, 12 captured and that two combat positions near the border with Azerbaijan had been lost.

"Since Azerbaijan has attacked Armenia's sovereign territory we are asking Russia to defend Armenia's territorial integrity based on an existing 1987 (mutual defence) agreement between our countries," Interfax had quoted Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia's Security Council, as saying.

Russia has a military base in Armenia as well as the peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Azeri defence ministry said it had launched a military operation to respond to what it called large-scale"provocations" from the Armenian side and in a statement blamed Armenia's military-political leadership.

It said Armenian forces had shelled Azeri army positions with artillery and mortar fire and that its own operation had been successful.

"The Azerbaijan Army has operational and tactical superiority," it said in the same statement, saying it had targeted Armenian troops and hardware along the border.

"Armenian servicemen are leaving their positions in fear and panic. Military equipment belonging to the opposing side has been destroyed," it said.

The French foreign ministry said it was very concerned about the deteriorating situation and called on both countries to respect a ceasefire.

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