Photo: Aziz Karimov

Photo: Aziz Karimov

The involvement of Russian peacekeepers in demining operations in Khojaly, Azerbaijan, has sparked debates over the potential implications for their prolonged presence in the region. Vugar Suleymanov, Chairman of the board of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA), revealed plans to engage Russian peacekeepers in demining activities during a briefing on the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

Suleymanov emphasized the ongoing accreditation process for Russian peacekeepers, indicating preparations to deploy equipment, dogs, and personnel for demining efforts in Khojaly in the near future. However, differing perspectives have emerged regarding the appropriateness of this involvement and its potential ramifications.

Political analyst Nasimi Mammadli raised doubts about the compatibility of demining activities with the mandate of Russian peacekeepers, asserting that their primary role revolves around regulating relations between conflicting parties. In an interview with Azadlig Radio,  Mammadli argued that since there are no longer conflicting parties in the area following the ceasefire, there is no basis for the involvement of peacekeepers in such operations.

On the contrary, MP Jeyhun Mammadov told Turan  that Russian peacekeepers' continued presence in the region, as stipulated by the November 10 Agreement, justifies their participation in demining efforts. He highlighted the practical benefits of leveraging the existing peacekeeping contingent to expedite mine clearance, thereby aiding Azerbaijan's post-conflict recovery efforts.

However, concerns linger over the potential prolongation of Russian peacekeepers' stay in the region. Mammadli cautioned against overlooking Russia's strategic interests in the South Caucasus, suggesting that Moscow may exploit the conflict dynamics to assert its influence and extend its military presence. He urged vigilance against any attempts to prolong the peacekeepers' tenure beyond what is deemed necessary for stabilization efforts.

In contrast, Mammadov reiterated the official stance that the peacekeepers' activity is time-bound as per the agreement, emphasizing their role in demining operations as a temporary measure to address immediate post-conflict challenges.

The demining issue carries significant weight for Azerbaijan, with official figures indicating a grim toll of casualties resulting from landmines in the liberated territories. Despite efforts to obtain mine maps from Armenia, discrepancies persist, fueling frustrations and complicating clearance efforts.

The exchange of maps, purportedly in exchange for the release of detained Armenian servicemen, has not fully resolved the challenge, with Azerbaijani authorities questioning the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the provided information. In response, Armenia's prime minister asserted that all available maps had been provided, underscoring the contentious nature of post-conflict negotiations and the lingering legacy of hostilities.

As Azerbaijan grapples with the daunting task of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation, the debate surrounding Russian peacekeepers' involvement in demining operations underscores broader geopolitical dynamics shaping the region's future trajectory. The balance between short-term assistance and long-term implications for sovereignty and security remains a central concern, as Azerbaijan navigates the complexities of post-conflict recovery in the South Caucasus.

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