Russian peacekeepers started withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh: Kremlin

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Russian peacekeepers have begun withdrawing from Nagorno-Karabakh following Azerbaijan’s recapture of the disputed territory from Armenian separatists last year, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

Azerbaijani state media reported this week that Russian troops had begun leaving positions held as part of a Moscow-brokered 2020 ceasefire between Baku and Yerevan.

They posted videos and photos showing armored vehicles with Russian flags purportedly driving out of the territory.

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Asked on Wednesday about the reports that Russian peacekeepers had started a withdrawal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Yes, that’s true.”

He did not provide further details.

Russia had deployed the 2,000-strong peacekeeping force as part of a deal to end a bloody six-week offensive in 2020 that saw Azerbaijani forces seize swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas.

Baku then completed its takeover of the territory in a lightning one-day offensive last September, triggering a refugee crisis as almost the entire local population of around 100,000 ethnic Armenians left for Armenia, fearing reprisals and repression.

The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was home to a majority Armenian population and controlled by pro-Yerevan separatists for nearly three decades.

The conflict has ruptured ties between traditional allies Russia and Armenia, with Moscow maintaining warm relations with Baku.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said recently that Yerevan has de facto suspended its participation in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - a defense alliance.

He has repeatedly criticized Russia for not stepping in to support his country in the face of what he says is Azerbaijani aggression.

Yerevan has also joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), against Moscow’s wishes - a move which obligates it to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin should he visit Armenia.

Arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently trying to broker a broader peace agreement that could see Baku gain control of yet more disputed territory.

Clashes and shootouts between troops stationed along the mountainous border are relatively common.

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