UPDATED: Russia warns that Nagorno-Karabakh could become Islamist militant stronghold

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The Kremlin issued a new appeal for an end to hostilities in and around Nagorno-Karabakh after Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said the mountain enclave could become a launch pad for Islamist militants to enter Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called for fighting to stop in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, saying the deadliest fighting in more than 25 years between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces was a tragedy.

Speaking in a interview with state television, Putin said he was in constant contact with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan about the conflict. 

Moscow expressed alarm after the deadliest fighting in more than 25 years between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces entered a 10th day, though the French news agency AFP later said Armenia had offered concessions only if Azerbaijan was ready to do so.

AFP gave no details of the offer it said had been made by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Azerbaijan has said it will stop fighting only if Armenia sets a timetable to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh, which under international law belongs to Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

A still image taken from a handout video on the official website of the Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry shows an Azeri serviceman who adjusts a poster picturing Azerbaijan’s flag on a building wall at allegedly Armenian position along the contact line of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. . EPA-EFE/AZERBAIJAN DEFENCE MINISTRY

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for fighting to stop and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced “serious concern about the unprecedented escalation” in a phone call with Iran’s foreign minister,

Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, said the conflict was attracting people he described as mercenaries and terrorists from the Middle East.

“We are talking about hundreds and already even thousands of radicals hoping to earn money in a new Karabakh war,” Naryshkin said in a statement.

He warned that the South Caucasus region could become “a new launch pad for international terrorist organisations” from where militants could enter states including Russia.

His comments were released after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country is a close ally of Azerbaijan, urged Moscow to be more active in peacemaking.

Mediation efforts led by Russia, France and the United States have failed to prevent intermittent flare-ups of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh despite a ceasefire which ended a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000.

Renewed fighting since Sept. 27 has increased concern that Turkey and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, could be sucked into the South Caucasus conflict.

Iran, which borders Azerbaijan and Armenia, is also worried about the conflict and President Hassan Rouhani underlined the importance of peace in the region in a phone call with Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the actions of Turkey and Azerbaijan amounted to a “terroristic attack” over Nagorno-Karabakh that formed part of the continuation of Armenian genocide.

“What we are facing is an Azeri-Turkish international terroristic attack,” Pashinyan told Sky News. “To me there is no doubt that this is a policy of continuing the Armenian genocide and a policy of reinstating the Turkish empire.”

The Armenian genocide refers to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

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