World News

Russia moves rocket launchers towards Nagorno-Karabakh after peace deal

LACHIN, Azerbaijan (Reuters) - Russia has moved truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers into a land corridor it controls between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as its peacekeeping forces secure new territory for a deal struck over the enclave last week.

Moscow brokered an end to six weeks of fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the enclave, an accord that prompted the deployment of almost 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the area, a process that is continuing.

The Russian defence ministry said on Monday it had set up seven temporary observation posts in the Lachin Corridor, which runs from the edge of Armenia to the enclave inside Azeri territory, to ensure the safe passage of Russian peacekeepers to Armenian-controlled parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Reuters reporters saw two Russian truck-mounted Grad multiple missile launch systems in the Lachin Corridor. The Soviet-era system can fire 40 rockets in around 20 seconds and their deployment suggests Moscow is not taking any chances with the security of its peacekeepers.

Both Grads were manned by Russian crews and the servicemen confirmed to Reuters that they were from Russia.

One of the Grads had a Russian military license plate with regional code 94, indicating it belonged to the Transcaucasian military district. The other Grad had no license plate, but was accompanied by a Kamaz military truck with a Russian license plate from the same military district.

Reuters reporters also spotted a Russian tank in the area.

A statement about the Russian deployment on the Kremlin website says the armed peacekeepers will be accompanied by armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles and hardware. It made no specific mention of rocket systems.

The Azeri defence ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Russian defence ministry said on Monday its soldiers were de-mining the Lachin corridor, and clearing the road of abandoned and damaged armoured vehicles and cars.

Moscow will monitor the peace with the help of 18 Russian-manned observation posts, it said. Russian peacekeepers were in constant contact with the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia to help prevent misunderstandings.

(This story corrects to smooth phrasing in lede paragraph)

Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich