* At least 16 killed in clashes near disputed region last
* Putin mediates talks between Azeri, Armenian presidents
* Clashes highlight risk of wider conflict in Caucasus
By Alexei and Anishchuk
SOCHI, Russia, Aug 10 Russian President Vladimir
Putin urged the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Sunday to
talk instead of fight, after more than a dozen people were
killed in clashes over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Kremlin chief hosted a meeting between the heads of the
two ex-Soviet states this weekend, giving him a chance to play a
peacekeeping role in the former Soviet Union at a time when the
West is accusing Moscow of backing pro-Russian separatists in
"The key thing is: There's no bigger tragedy than the loss
of human lives," Putin told Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev and
Armenia's Serzh Sagrsyan in the second day of talks in his Black
Sea residence in Sochi. "We need to act wisely and patiently and
pay respect to one another to find the solution."
Sargsyan and Aliyev agreed on the need for a political
solution to the 23-year-old conflict.
"Back then (in the 1990s) we came to a conclusion that this
conflict has no military solution," Sargsyan said. "If we keep
on blaming each other, I don't think it will be resolved for a
The good-faith comments were echoed by Aliyev, who said: "I
hope that we will find a solution in line with... the principles
of international law in the nearest future."
At least 16 combatants were killed and several wounded in
last week's clashes around the region, which lies within
Azerbaijan but is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. The
clashes highlighted the risk of broader conflict in the South
Caucasus area, where oil and natural gas flow from the Caspian
region to Europe.
Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh first erupted in 1991, when the
Soviet Union broke up. A ceasefire was called in 1994 after more
than 30,000 people were killed in the fighting. The two sides
have regularly traded accusations of further violence around the
region and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
Energy-producing Azerbaijan, host to oil majors including
BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, frequently threatens to take
Nagorno-Karabakh back by force and is spending heavily on its
Meanwhile, Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine. The
United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on
Russia, including visa bans, asset freezes and limiting access
to capital for Russian state banks, over its role in the
fighting and Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in
Moscow has retaliated with counter sanctions, imposing
sweeping trade restrictions of Western food imports.
(Reporting By Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel,