Putin Discusses Karabakh With Leaders of the Caucasus

MINSK (Reuters–Interfax)–Russian President Vladimir Putin said after a meeting with the presidents of three Transcaucasus states on Thursday that Moscow was ready to step up its peace efforts in the troubled region. Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying after the meeting in the Belarus capital Minsk–that Russia would focus on mediating in the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The so-called "Grand Caucasus Four” group–comprising of Putin–Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze–Azerbaijan’s Haydar Aliev and Armenia’s Robert Kocharian–met a day before a wider summit of the 12-member post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

"Russia will use all means to take an active part in settling conflicts in the Caucasus region,” Interfax quoted Putin as saying. "Russia is mostly concerned about finding ways to solve the Karabakh conflict.”

Putin made his statement just five days after Armenia announced that follow-up negotiations planned for June 15 in Geneva were indefinitely postponed–quoting lack of public support in both countries for a compromise.

Putin said Russia would use every means to promote peace–including unspecified parliamentary and economic levers.

"We discussed–of course–primarily–problems and questions of security. We all know–and the public of our countries know–that this region has a rather high level of accumulated problems. The peoples of all the countries of the region suffered quite a lot after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many citizens of our countries are still suffering the serious consequences of military operations. In many countries people are still suffering from not having a roof over their heads. The problem of refugees still exists in many countries. All of these questions were in the focus of our attention," said Putin.

"We spoke of the need to develop cooperation in many areas. We spoke of the need to expand cooperation–primarily in the humanitarian spheres. I personally highly rate what we have managed to achieve. I highly rate the nature of the discussion which has just taken place and which was rather frank and–in my view–productive," summarized the Russian leader.

Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev commented that Azerbaijan welcomes the invitation of Russia’s participation in the Karabakh settlement. "After Putin was elected president–Russia more actively and sincerely deals with the settlement of Karabakh conflict," he said.

In a joint statement after the meeting the presidents of the four countries stressed the need to join efforts to fight all forms of terrorism. The meeting participants also confirmed the key significance of contacts and said they would seek to step up contacts–the statement said.

"The leaders of the countries agreed that the states of the region will play the major role in determining approaches towards ensuring security and the development of the Caucasus–and stressed the importance of using international mechanisms in settling conflicts and maintaining stability in the Caucasus," the document said.

The presidents of the four countries said they were committed to a peaceful–fair and lasting settlement of conflicts in the Caucasus which is one of the priorities for the states in the region and which should remove barriers in strengthening comprehensive cooperation," the statement said.

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