France, Russia concerned about Turkey sending mercenaries to Caucasus
PARIS--French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin have expressed concern about Turkey possibly sending Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan in its re-ignited conflict with Armenia over the mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Macron’s office said in a statement Thursday that he and Putin discussed the issue in a phone call Wednesday night, and both “share concern about the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh.” Macron’s office did not provide further information about the mercenaries.
Turkey has publicly supported Azerbaijan in the conflict and said it would provide assistance if requested, but denied sending foreign mercenaries or arms to the region.
The renewed fighting in the Caucasus Mountains, at the crossroads between Russia, Turkey and Iran, has killed dozens of people since Sunday and raised concerns of a broader conflict. Heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces continued for a fourth straight day on Wednesday in a flare-up of a decades-old conflict.
Macron said he and Putin called for restraint and agreed upon the need for a joint effort toward a ceasefire, as part of international mediation efforts for Nagorno-Karabakh led by Russia, France and the US since a 1994 truce ended a war there.
The Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday expressed concern over reports about extremists being sent to the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Militants of illegal armed groups including from Syria and Libya are being deployed to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict zone in order to directly take part in fighting,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“We are deeply concerned by these processes which not only escalate tensions in the conflict zone further but create long-lasting threats to security for all countries in the region,” it added.
The ministry didn’t clarify which country may have sent the fighters or which country the fighters may have arrived in, but in a statement urged “leadership of the states concerned to take effective measures to prevent the use of foreign terrorists and mercenaries in the conflict.”
The president of Azerbaijan said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was the sole condition to end fighting over the separatist territory. Armenian officials alleged Turkey’s involvement in the renewed conflict, which Turkey has denied.
France, Russia and the United States are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s (OSCE) Minsk Group, set up in 1992 to mediate a peaceful resolution over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in the South Caucasus.
The group has yet to meet or send a joint statement since new clashes began on Sunday over the mountainous enclave which is inside Azerbaijan but is administered by ethnic Armenians and broke away in a 1991-94 war.
Macron, who has been in a war of words with Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan for months, said on Wednesday Ankara was acting in a “warlike” manner.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and considers it to be a strategic partner. France’s population includes about 600,000 people of Armenian origin.
Armenia’s ambassador to Moscow said on Monday that Turkey had sent around 4,000 fighters from northern Syria to Azerbaijan and that they were fighting there, an assertion denied by an aide to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Turkey’s government.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said on Thursday the European Union must stand firm against Turkey and this could mean possible sanctions.
“In the short-term there must be signals of resolve. We will see if there are sanctions,” he said on broadcaster France 2 television.
EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels on Thursday for two days of discussions, notably on tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and relations with Turkey.