- Russia has another brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
- This time it involves Russian troops stepping in to keep the peace and Armenia leaving the region.
- Azerbaijan will be allowed to keep all the land it controls currently, including the culturally significant city of Shusha, known as Shushi to Armenians.
- Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and the Armenian leader of the breakaway Republic recognized the war was strategically lost after Azerbaijan took over Shusha as well as the heights surrounding the capital of Stepanakert, meaning it could be easily attacked.
- The announcement was celebrated in Azerbaijan, while Armenians are calling for Pashinyan to resign and describe the deal as a “betrayal.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan Stop Fighting
After six weeks of fighting, Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a fourth ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh.
This most recent ceasefire was brokered by Russia and has provisions that are widely popular in Azerbaijan. The agreement, however, created outrage in Armenia, prompting calls for the prime minister to resign.
The two nations have been fighting over the region, also known as Artsakh by ethnic Armenians, after Azerbaijan attacked the territory to regain control. Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but 30-years-ago the ethnic Armenian controlled region declared independence and has been protected by Armenia since.
Over the past month, fighting has escalated with both sides accusing the other of are serious war crimes. Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital and most populous city, has been consistently shelled by Azerbaijan, leaving whole blocks destroyed and accusations that Azerbaijan targets civilians. While Armenia has been accused of using cluster munitions against Azeri civilians by Azeri authorities and the Humans Rights Watch.
Will This Peace Deal Last?
The brokered ceasefire went into effect at 1:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. While past ceasefires fell apart within minutes, this version involves Russian soldiers being stationed in the combat zone; meaning the stakes of breaking the ceasefire are much higher.
Additionally, there are provisions that Azerbaijan has demanded since the conflict began, and they have been the instigators of past broken ceasefires. Some of the concessions Armenia agreed to were completely removing its military forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and another Azeri territory currently held by Armenia by December 1, 2020.
Azerbaijan will retain control of all territory held by its forces, as well as areas Armenia’s forces have been removed from per the agreement. Artsakh proper will still remain autonomous and its status was not decided by the agreement. Azerbaijan will also retain control of the culturally significant city of Shusha, known as Shushi by Armenians.
To keep the peace in the region, about 2,000 Russian troops and their equipment have entered the region in the last 24-hours to man the front lines and protect what is left of Artsakh, as well as occupy the Lachin Corridor. The Lachin region is used by Armenia to supply Artsakh. They will remain there for at least five years.
Lastly, Azerbaijan will get a roadway that will allow them to connect the main part of Azerbaijan to the stand-alone territory of Nakhchivan.
Reactions to the Agreement
The Armenian leader of Artsakh announced that the ceasefire was necessary and the terms unavoidable after they lost Shusha, which is only a handful of miles from Stepanakert. It was unavoidable because Susha commands the high ground, meaning Azeri forces could easily shell the capital.
The news of the ceasefire was met with very different reactions in each country.
In Azerbaijan, people took to the streets in celebration. Many Azeris have wanted to regain control of the region since losing it nearly 30 years ago, and its been a major political platform of President Ilham Ajiyev.
However, some weren’t completely happy with the deal and hoped Azerbaijan would take the entire region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Many also quoted Russia’s involvement as a source of disappointment. One man told Reuters, “I don’t trust the Armenians, but I trust the Russians even less.”
This same news was met with fury in Armenia. When Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced the ceasefire he wrote, “Dear compatriots, sisters and brothers. I personally made a very hard decision for me and all of us. I have signed a statement on the terminiaton of the Karabakh war with Russian and Azeribaijani presidents…”
“I made the decision as a result of a deep analysis of the military situation… Also based on the belief that this is the best solution in the current situation,” he continued.
“It’s not a victory, but there’s no defeat until you admit defeat.”
Within hours there were protests in Yerevan, the capital, and people quickly stormed the main government building.
People could be heard asking “Where is Nikol? Where is that traitor?”
Many Armenians and 17 political parties are demanding he resigns.
See What Others Are Saying: (Reuters) (New York Times) (NPR)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”