Moscow on Thursday said Armenians fleeing after Azerbaijani forces retook control of Nagorno-Karabakh had nothing to fear, an apparent rejection of Armenia’s claims of ethnic cleansing in the separatist region.
“It’s difficult to say who is to blame (for the exodus), there is no direct reason for such actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“People are nevertheless expressing a desire to leave ... those who made such a decision should be provided with normal living conditions,” Peskov added.
Armenia said more than 68,000 of the region’s 120,000-strong population had left by Thursday midday.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned of “ethnic cleansing” in the region and called for the international community to act.
The exodus marks a fundamental shift in ethnic control of lands disputed by mostly Christian Armenians and predominantly Muslim Azerbaijanis for the past century.
Pashinyan had criticized the Russian peacekeeping force for failing to intervene when Azerbaijan launched its lightning offensive to regain control of the region.
Russia denied the accusations.
Peskov reacted tepidly to the announcement that the ethnic Armenian statelet would “ceases to exist” at the end of the year.
“We have taken notice of this and are closely monitoring the situation. Our peacekeepers continue to assist people,” Peskov said.