Azerbaijani President says his forces completed 'Karabakh operation'
The Azeri President says the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region had already begun.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that Azerbaijan has achieved all its goals during the 24 hours of what he called "anti-terrorist measures" in Nagorno-Karabakh, adding that the country has restored its sovereignty.
"In just one day, Azerbaijan completed all the goals set within the framework of local anti-terrorist measures," Aliyev said in an address to the nation, adding that "Azerbaijan restored its sovereignty as a result of successful anti-terrorist measures in Karabakh."
Aliyev claimed that most of the ethnic Armenian forces in the region had been destroyed, adding that the withdrawal of the remaining troops had already begun.
The Azeri President said that the military was ready to continue the operation until "the very end" if "illegal armed formations" in Nagorno-Karabakh had not surrendered.
He also mentioned that he gave clear instructions to his country’s armed forces not to endanger Nagorno-Karabakh’s civilian population.
On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched an "anti-terrorist operation" in Nagorno-Karabakh to restore constitutional order, targeting ethnic Armenia fighters in the region with high-precision weapons.
However, Yerevan reiterated that it had no military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh and described the operation as aggression.
On Wednesday, the Azeri Defense Ministry announced that an agreement brokered by Russian peacekeepers had been reached on the suspension of anti-terrorist activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the disarmament of what it described as illegal Armenian formations.
Under the truce deal, the ethnic Armenian forces said they had agreed to fully dismantle their army and that Armenia would pull out any forces it had in the region.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said that "all weapons and heavy armaments are to be surrendered" under the supervision of Russia's 2,000 peacekeeping force on the ground.
Azeri presidential foreign policy advisor Hikmet Hajiyev promised safe passage for the ethnic Armenia fighters who surrendered and said Baku sought the "peaceful reintegration" of Karabakh Armenians.
Both sides said talks on reintegrating the region into the rest of Azerbaijan would be held on Thursday in the city of Yevlakh.
Russian peacekeepers confirmed on Wednesday evening that the ceasefire was held and there were no violations recorded.
In the same context, Aliyev considered that the position of the Armenian leadership on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh gives hope for reaching a peace agreement between Yerevan and Baku.
He added that Baku "appreciates" that the Armenian leadership "showed political competence."
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the mountainous region since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Charles Michel, president of the EU's Council of Europe, urged Baku to ensure the safety of the local population.
On his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped for a "peaceful" resolution, adding that Moscow has been in contact with all sides in the conflict.
Putin held talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan Wednesday evening, but the Kremlin considered that the crisis was "Azerbaijan's internal affair."
Armenia said at least 32 people were killed and more than 200 wounded by the shelling in Karabakh, as the latest Azeri operation saw artillery, aircraft, and drone strikes rock the region.
Moscow said several of its peacekeepers in Karabakh were killed when the car they were traveling in came under fire.
In Yerevan, Pashinyan said it was "very important" that the ceasefire hold, adding that he expected Russia's peacekeepers to ensure Karabakh's ethnic-Armenian residents could stay "in their homes, on their land."
The loss in Karabakh put pressure on Pashinyan, who has faced criticism at home for making concessions to Azerbaijan since the 2020 defeat.
The Armenian leader insisted that his government had not been involved in drafting the latest ceasefire deal.
Thousands of protesters waving the Karabakh flag blocked a main road in Armenia's capital Yerevan as riot police protected official buildings.