After nearly two weeks of fierce and bloody fighting in the disputed territory of Nargorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a ceasefire and plan to start “substantive” talks over the disputed region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday.
The breakthrough came after some 10 hours of talks in Moscow, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Russia’s top diplomat said the Red Cross would act as an intermediary in the humanitarian operation, which begins once the ceasefire comes into effect at 08:00 GMT on Saturday.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow, Alexsandra Stojanovich-Godfroid, said the agreement was for a “humanitarian ceasefire”.
We have to “wait to see whether this ceasefire will really happen as agreed, if it will come down to the exchange of prisoners, and if the parties are really willing to return to the negotiating table to solve this decades long conflict,” she said.
At least 300 people have been reported killed in the fighting, which broke out on September 27 and is the most serious in the territory since clashes in 2016 left dozens dead.
Lavrov did not provide details on the talks but said the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group would mediate.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov did not speak to reporters.
The renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Al Jazeera that Nagorno-Karabakh was a “complex issue” for Russia, noting that it was already at loggerheads with Turkey in Syria and Libya. “There’s a real risk this could become a proxy war,” he said.
Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
But the ethnic Armenians who make up the vast majority of the population reject Azerbaijani rule, and have been running their own affairs, with Armenia’s support, since a devastating war in the 1990s after the then Soviet Union collapsed.
At least 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes before an internationally-brokered ceasefire was agreed in 1994.