Armenia says food shortages hit Nagorno-Karabakh, blames Azerbaijan, Russia

A view shows divided Taghavard village in Nagorno-Karabakh region
A view shows the village of Taghavard in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, January 16, 2021. Following the military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and a further signing of a ceasefire deal, the village was divided between the two sides. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov

TBILISI, Dec 22 (Reuters) - The breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is running short of food due to a blockade now well into its second week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was quoted as saying on Thursday, blaming Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan also criticised Russian peacekeeping troops for failing to keep open the Lachin corridor, the road route across Azerbaijan that links Armenia with the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave where some 120,000 ethnic Armenians live.

The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but its inhabitants are predominantly Armenian and it broke away after a war in the early 1990s. In 2020, Azerbaijan retook territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh after a short war that ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire.

Pashinyan told his Cabinet the humanitarian situation in the enclave was "extremely tense as a result of the illegal blockade by Azerbaijan of the Lachin corridor".

He said he had proposed terms to Azerbaijan for lifting the blockade of the route, where Russian peacekeepers have been confronted by a crowd of Azerbaijanis describing themselves as environmental activists.

Azerbaijan says they are involved in a genuine protest against illegal Armenian mining in Nagorno-Karabakh and it was the Russian peacekeepers who closed the road.

Pashinyan said the peacekeepers were not fulfilling their function, which he said was "precisely to prevent such illegal actions and, in particular, to keep the Lachin corridor under control".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian peacekeepers, deployed after the last war in 2020, were working to ensure peace and order, in accordance with their mandate.

Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh depend on the Lachin corridor for supplies of food, medicine, fuel and other essential goods.

"Hundreds of families remain divided on different sides of the blockade. In Nagorno-Karabakh, there are shortages of a number of essential goods, including food," Pashinyan said.

He called for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh from the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke separately with Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmat Hajiyev and Armen Grigoryan, secretary of Armenia's Security Council, the White House said in a statement.

"Sullivan noted our ongoing concern over impeded access to the Lachin Corridor and the growing humanitarian implications of this situation, and called for full restoration of free movement through the corridor," it said.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch this week called on the Azerbaijani authorities and Russian peacekeepers to ensure that vehicles with humanitarian goods can pass. "The longer the disruption to essential goods and services, the greater the risk to civilians," it said.

The standoff is fuelling tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have yet to reach a peace deal. Violations of the 2020 truce remain commonplace, with more than 200 soldiers killed on both sides in a flare-up of fighting in September.

Reporting by Reuters Editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.