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Azerbaijan Ensures Smooth Withdrawal of Russian Peacekeepers

By Ilham Karimli May 15, 2024

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Azerbaijan Defense Ministry's Spokesperson, Colonel Anar Eyvazov / Azertag

Colonel Anar Eyvazov, spokesperson for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, has disclosed significant developments concerning the early withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Azerbaijan.

In a recent statement, Colonel Eyvazov explained that the withdrawal process, currently underway, is expected to conclude shortly. He emphasized Azerbaijan’s commitment to providing the necessary technical and logistical support to facilitate the withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent’s personnel, weapons, and equipment from Azerbaijani territory.

“After the Patriotic War [of 2020], Russian peacekeepers temporarily stationed in the territory of Azerbaijan began operating in accordance with the relevant clause of the Tripartite Declaration signed by the leaders of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Armenia. Following the successful local anti-terrorist measures [in the Karabakh region] by the Azerbaijan Armed Forces in September 2023, there was no longer a need for the operation of this mission,” Eyvazov told journalists on Wednesday.

On the same day, members of the Russian peacekeeping contingent attended a ceremony at Khojaly airport to mark the end of their mission in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh (Garabagh) region.

The decision to withdraw the Russian peacekeepers prematurely reflects the changing security dynamics in the region. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense continues to oversee the process, ensuring a smooth and efficient transition as the peacekeeping forces continue to exit Azerbaijani territory.

The Russian peacekeepers have been present in the Karabakh region since November 2020, following an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia to cease hostilities mediated by Russia.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had been locked in a bloody conflict since the late 1980s. The growing anti-Azerbaijan sentiments in Armenia were based on illegal claims to Azerbaijan’s historic Karabakh region. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia launched a full-scale military aggression against Azerbaijan. The war, which lasted until a ceasefire in 1994, resulted in Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. This occupation led to the deaths of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis and the expulsion of one million in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

The conflict escalated on September 27, 2020, when Armenian forces illegally deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands began shelling military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani army promptly launched a counter-offensive to repel Armenia’s attack, liberating over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30 years of illegal Armenian occupation.

The war concluded with a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan. As part of the agreement, a Russian peacekeeping mission was deployed in certain parts of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan for five years. Their primary responsibility was monitoring and ensuring adherence to peace in the region.

Concerns regarding the Russian peacekeepers have been raised multiple times due to their failure to enforce assigned tasks. For instance, Paragraph 4 of the tripartite statement mandated the peacekeepers to ensure the immediate withdrawal of Armenian army formations from the Karabakh region; however, this went unfulfilled.

Moreover, the post-war situation in the Karabakh region remained fragile due to frequent armed provocations by the Armenian military and illegal armed formations in the region. Azerbaijani army positions in the liberated territories, including the posts on the conditional border with Armenia, were targeted almost daily, leading to periodical fatal escalations, including the bloody border clashes in 2021 and 2022.

The peacekeepers were also observed accompanying illegal arms shipments from Armenia to the Karabakh region, despite warnings from Azerbaijan.

After Azerbaijan regained full control over the Lachin road in April 2023, the peacekeepers and illegal Armenian armed groups in the region were seen using dirt roads to bypass the Lachin highway for illegal arms transfers.

Meanwhile, the illegal Armenian separatist forces in the Karabakh region intensively fortified their positions and strongholds with material supplied by Armenia. Despite continuous warnings by Baku, neither the peacekeepers nor the separatist troops addressed the legal demands.

The Azerbaijan Armed Forces conducted local anti-terrorist measures on September 19-20, 2023, to neutralize illegal Armenian armed formations and their military infrastructure in the Karabakh region.

Following the collapse of the illegal Armenian separatist regime, the necessity for peacekeepers in the Karabakh region diminished due to restored peace. Consequently, dozens of their observation posts were closed after the Azerbaijani military regained full control of the region in September 2023.