Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s Emmanuel Macron have called for an immediate ceasefire between ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, as the official death toll passed 100 and the two sides said they would continue fighting.
“Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron called on the warring sides to halt fire completely and as soon as possible, de-escalate tensions and show maximum restraint,” the Kremlin said in a statement early on Thursday.
In a telephone conversation that came at Macron’s initiative, the two leaders discussed “concrete parameters of further cooperation, first and foremost within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
The leaders expressed “readiness” to see a statement made on behalf of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group – Russia, France and the United States – that would call for an “immediate” end to fighting and start of talks, the Kremlin added.
On Thursday, Azerbaijan’s general prosecutor’s office said Armenian shelling killed a civilian in its town of Terter and badly damaged the train station there.
The two sides are engaged in the heaviest fighting in years over Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian province that broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed.
So far, Armenia and Azerbaijan have rejected international calls for negotiations.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev promised his military would keep fighting until Armenian troops withdrew fully from Karabakh.
If “the Armenian government fulfils the demand, fighting and bloodshed will end, and peace will be established in the region,” he said while visiting wounded soldiers on Wednesday.
‘Prepare for long-term war’
For his part, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said it was not “very appropriate” to speak of negotiations “at a time of intensive hostilities”.
In the Armenian capital Yerevan, dozens of men gathered outside a recruitment office to join the fight.
Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan said on Wednesday: “We need to prepare for a long-term war.”
In the breakaway province’s capital, Stepanakert, two explosions were heard about midnight on Thursday as sirens sounded.
Residents told AFP news agency that the city had been attacked by drones.
Streets were dark with public lighting shut off, although some shops were open in the city, which local authorities said came under fire when fighting first erupted on Sunday.
The official death toll has surpassed 100, including civilians, with both sides claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on the other.
Armenia has reported 104 military deaths and 23 civilians killed.
It claimed that Azerbaijan had lost 130 troops while another 200 were wounded.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry countered, saying that its forces have killed 2,300 Karabakh troops and “destroyed 130 tanks, 200 artillery units, 25 anti-aircraft units, five ammunition depots, 50 anti-tank units, 55 military vehicles”.
With Baku and Yerevan rejecting talks, fears have emerged that the conflict could escalate into all-out war, which could also draw in regional powers like Turkey and Russia.
Moscow, which has a military pact with Armenia and also enjoys good ties with Azerbaijan, has repeatedly called for an end to the fighting and offered to host negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s “readiness” to organise a meeting.
But neither leader showed signs of being ready for talks.
“We are definitely very close to seeing a large-scale war, possibly even on a regional scale,” said Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group.
Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives, but the territory is not recognised by any country, including Armenia.
Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
:Vantage News and Aljazeera