Tensions over restive contested region are mounting, with effectiveness of Russian peacekeeping mission a serious concern
The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met for talks in Brussels amid renewed tension on the border between the two countries, which have been battling for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave for some 30 years.
The discussion between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev were mediated by European Council President Charles Michel, who also held a bilateral meeting with Pashinian on Saturday evening and with Aliyev on Sunday morning.
The talks come in the wake of fresh clashes on the border between the two Caucasus countries. On Thursday, an Azerbaijani soldier was killed and four Armenian soldiers wounded in other clashes, and on Friday, Yerevan announced that an Armenian soldier had been killed and two others wounded by Azerbaijani forces.
Pashinian has accused Azerbaijan of seeking to "undermine the talks" planned in Brussels and said there was "very little" chance of reaching a peace agreement with Aliyev at the meeting.
In early May, Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations met for intense four-day talks sponsored by the United States. The American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he was pleased with "tangible progress" at the talks in Washington, saying that a peace agreement was "in sight".
A new meeting between Pashinian and Aliyev is already scheduled to take place in Moldova on 1 June on the sidelines of the second summit of the European Political Community. Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will all be involved.
The never-ending standoff
The two Caucasus countries fought two wars in the early 1990s and in 2020 for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region with a majority Armenian population that seceded from Azerbaijan more than three decades ago.
Following the short war that saw Azerbaijan retake territory in the separatist region in the autumn of 2020, Baku and Yerevan reached a ceasefire promoted by Russia. Since then, Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Armenia has complained for several months about their ineffectiveness.
The Russian government has been irked by western attempts to negotiate a new peace agreement, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisting that there is "no alternative" to the ceasefire deal the Kremlin brokered in 2020.
Tensions recently flared up again when Baku announced on 23 April that it had set up a first road checkpoint at the entrance to the Latchine corridor, the only route linking Armenia to the separatist enclave, which is already subject to a blockade that has caused shortages and power cuts.
Washington called on the two leaders on Thursday to "agree to move their troops away from the border".