Russia Begins Withdrawing Peacekeeping Forces From Karabakh, Now Under Full Azerbaijan Control

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian forces are being withdrawn from Azerbaijan's Karabakh region, where they have been stationed as peacekeepers since the end of a war in 2020, officials of both countries said Wednesday.

In a conference call with journalists, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed reports of the withdrawal but did not give further details. Hikmet Hajiyev, the head of foreign policy in Azerbaijan's presidential administration, also confirmed the withdrawal, saying it was agreed to by both countries.

Hajiyev did not say why the forces were being withdrawn, but their presence appeared superfluous after Azerbaijan regained full control of the region last year.

The Karabakh region had been under the control of ethnic Armenians until a war in 2020 that resulted in Azerbaijan regaining control of parts of the region.

That war ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire that called for placing about 2,000 peacekeeping troops in the parts of Karabakh that were still held by Armenians. The forces' duties were to include ensuring free passage on the sole road connecting Karabakh with Armenia.

But Azerbaijan began blocking the road in late 2022, alleging Armenians were using it for weapons shipments and to smuggle minerals, and the Russian forces did not intervene.

After months of increasingly dire food and medicine shortages in Karabakh due to the blockade, Azerbaijan launched a lighting blitz in September 2023 that forced the Karabakh Armenian authorities to capitulate after one day in negotiations mediated by Russian forces.

After Azerbaijan regained full control of Karabakh, which had a population of around 120,000, more than 100,000 of the region's ethnic Armenians fled, although Azerbaijan said they were welcome to stay and promised their human rights would be ensured.