Armenia and Azerbaijan to attend Nagorno-Karabakh talks in Moscow

Russia says both sides have confirmed foreign ministers will meet for discussions on deadly conflict

Local residents walk in a street after it was hit by a missile in Gandja, Azerbaijan, on October 8, 2020, near the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh province's capital Stepanakert as fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces spilled over ahead of a first meeting of international mediators in Geneva. Armenia accused Azerbaijan on October 8, 2020, of shelling a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh while international mediators seeking to halt escalating fighting over the disputed region were expected to meet in Geneva. / AFP / BULENT KILIC
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Russia said Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed to meet in Moscow on Friday for negotiations on ending the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, after President Vladimir Putin called for talks.

"Baku and Yerevan have confirmed their participation in the consultations in Moscow," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Agence France-Presse.

"Active preparations are under way," she said, with the talks expected to take place later on Friday and involve the two countries' foreign ministers.

Mr Putin's invitation to Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan comes after more than a week of intense fighting between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-majority breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh supported by Armenia.

Armenia had ruled out any talks between the two countries' top diplomats as long as clashes continued and did not take part in closed door meetings in Geneva on Thursday between the Azeri foreign minister and diplomats from France, Russia and the United States, who make up the "Minsk Group" that has sought a solution to the Karabakh conflict since the 1990s.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an Azerbaijani region controlled by Armenians who declared an unrecognised breakaway statelet after the fall of the USSR and emerged victorious from the war that followed.

The current fighting is the worst since a 1994 ceasefire, claiming hundreds of lives including civilians as both sides doubled down on entrenched positions over who should control the region.

Heavy bombardments have levelled many homes since fighting erupted late last month and the region's main city of Stepanakert is pockmarked with unexploded ordnance and wide craters from shelling.

International leaders have repeatedly called for an immediate halt to the fighting but there are no signs yet of the conflict abating.

Turkey has voiced strong backing for Azerbaijan, raising fears in the West that the conflict could spiral into a full-blown war embroiling Ankara with Moscow, which has a military treaty with Armenia.

Mr Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron are among the world leaders to denounce the reported deployment of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria and Libya to Karabakh. Iran on Wednesday warned of "terrorists" who had joined the conflict from abroad.

Azerbaijan announced on Thursday that it was recalling its ambassador to Athens following reports that Greek citizens were joining Armenian forces in Karabakh.