Armenia wants Russian army outposts on Azerbaijan border amid tensions

FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Yerevan, Armenia October 13, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan proposed on Thursday that Russian border outposts be stationed along the length of Armenia's border with Azerbaijan after a rise in tensions between Yerevan and Baku.

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other earlier on Thursday of flouting a Russian-backed ceasefire that both sides had accepted the previous day to halt deadly clashes over their joint border, which Yerevan wants demarcated.

"Given the current situation, I think it makes sense to consider the question of stationing outposts of Russian border guards along the entire length of the Armenian-Azeri border," Pashinyan said during a government meeting.

He said Yerevan was preparing to discuss the proposal with Moscow and that the move would allow work to be carried out on the demarcation and delimitation of the border without the risk of military clashes.

The Kremlin said it was in close contact with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, but declined comment on Pashinyan's proposal.

Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, are watched closely abroad for any threat to Azeri gas and oil pipelines and the risk of regional powers Turkey and Russia being dragged into any conflict.

Armenia's defence ministry said Azeri troops had opened fire on Armenian positions at the Gegharkunik section of the border early on Thursday, prompting Armenia to return fire. It later said the situation was calm.

Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian forces had fired with machine guns and grenade launchers towards a village in the Kelbajar region, and had thrown hand grenades. It said its forces returned fire.

The ceasefire was called on Wednesday after one of the deadliest border incidents since last year's six-week war between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas.

Armenia said three of its soldiers were killed and four wounded. Azerbaijan said two of its soldiers were wounded.

In fighting from last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around Nagorno-Karabakh before Russia brokered a ceasefire.

A border dispute has since flared up, with Armenia and Azerbaijan accusing each other of incursions into each others' territory, highlighting the fragility of the ceasefire.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov; editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

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