After Trump truce fails, Erdogan pitches Putin on Karabakh peace

Selcan Hacaoglu and Ilya Arkhipov

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he proposed a joint effort with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to halt fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan days after a U.S. initiative collapsed.

“I held detailed discussions with Putin and said let’s put an end to this in the Caucasus,” Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament Wednesday about a phone call the previous evening with the Kremlin leader. “If you want, we can solve this together, you can hold talks with Pashinyan and I can talk with my brother, Aliyev.”

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party lawmakers at the parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

The Kremlin denied the two leaders discussed Turkey’s participation in negotiations to settle the worst fighting in decades over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. “It did not figure on the agenda” of the call, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call, in response to a question on the subject.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Monday that a U.S.-brokered truce agreement with Azerbaijan had collapsed hours after it came into force. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said the same day that his country would “carry on to the end” until Armenians announced a withdrawal from territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Failed Truce

Each side blamed the other for the collapse of the truce after U.S. President Donald Trump had hailed the State Department for securing the agreement. It was the third failed attempt by international mediators including Russia and France to stop the violence that erupted Sept. 27.

Putin isn’t likely to accept Erdogan’s offer, since Russia and Armenia oppose a bigger role for Turkey in Moscow’s former Soviet backyard. Still, after the failure of the U.S. initiative, the proposal underlines the West’s limited leverage in ending the conflict.

Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan in a war that killed 30,000 and displaced 1 million people amid the collapse of the Soviet Union before Russia brokered a 1994 truce. Azerbaijan says it’s fighting to regain its territory after nearly three decades of failed mediation, while Armenia says it’s defending Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination.

Putin has struggled to rein in the warring sides, in part because of Erdogan’s vocal support of Aliyev’s military campaign. The Russian leader said last week that some 5,000 had already been killed on both sides.

Russia has a defense pact with Armenia, though it doesn’t cover Nagorno-Karabakh, while Aliyev said Monday that as many as six Turkish F-16 fighter jets are in Azerbaijan and would be deployed if his country came under foreign attack.

“It was a good talk, I hope we can finalize this,” Erdogan said of Tuesday’s call with Putin. “But if our red lines are crossed” then Turkey won’t hesitate to respond, he said without elaborating.

Putin expressed “deep concern about the continued military action and the greater and greater involvement of terrorists from the Middle East in the fighting” in Nagorno-Karabakh on the call with Erdogan, according to a Kremlin statement.

Russia has raised the alarm about Islamist extremists from Syria fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh after Turkey was accused of funneling thousands of miitants to join with the Azerbaijani military. Erdogan and Aliyev have denied the allegations.