Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally-recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan, two weeks after Armenia surrendered the region following its defeat to Azeri forces.
Speaking on the Russian channel Rossiya 1 TV yesterday, Putin reasoned that Yerevan's refusal to recognise the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh during its occupation of the province proved that it was an inseparable part of Azerbaijani territory.
"Armenia did not recognise the independence and sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh," Putin stated. "This meant that, from the point of view of international law, both Nagorno-Karabakh and all the regions adjacent to it were and are an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan."
He noted, however, that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has not yet been finalised and that "We have agreed that we will maintain the status quo, the current situation today. What will happen next is to be decided in the future or by future leaders, future participants in this process."
The mountainous region in the southern Caucasus has for decades been disputed over between Baku and Yerevan, with it being internationally-recognised as Azerbaijan's territory throughout its occupation by Armenian separatist forces.
Although it was under the control and support of Armenia, what they called "Artsakh" was officially occupied by the ethnic Armenian militias rather than the country's armed forces, meaning that it represented a separatist movement and that the area's status remained disputed.
That changed when six weeks of renewed fighting broke out between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in September, resulting in Baku's conquest of strategic areas and the brokering of a peace deal by Russia on 9 November. Under that deal, Armenian forces were to withdraw from the territories they occupied and hand them over to Azeri forces, while Russian peacekeeping troops would facilitate that safe transfer along with the Turkish military's observation.
Putin's acknowledgement of the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan's territory is seen as the clearest such statement on the issue by the Russian head of state. It also comes after he last week warned the Armenian government against backing out of the deal, as protestors in Yerevan opposed to the surrender wreaked havoc and destruction in the capital and called on Prime Minister Nikol Pahinyan to resign.