Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed there is sufficient good will to resolve the Karabakh conflict as he hosted Sunday the leaders of arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At the meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisian of Armenia, Putin expressed satisfaction that both leaders had expressed their commitment to seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict that has dragged on for a quarter of a century.
"Of course, any difficult situation can be resolved if there is good will. There exists that good will of the Azerbaijani people and of the Armenian people," Putin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies at the talks being held in his summer house at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Nagorny Karabakh, a region mostly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, broke away from Azerbaijan with the help of Armenia in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives between 1991 and 1994.
The tensions between energy-rich Azerbaijan and Moscow-allied Armenia have escalated as ex-Soviet republics are uneasily watching the Kremlin's historic confrontation with the West over Ukraine, where government forces are battling Russian-backed separatists.
A shaky ceasefire has become even more tenuous in recent weeks with a spate of clashes that have left at least 23 dead.
Even as their leaders were in Sochi, holding separate bilateral talks with Putin on Saturday, clashes continued along the so-called line of contact.
Shooting and shelling overnight killed one Azerbaijani soldier and destroyed two houses in Armenia, according news reports from the region.
- Patience, respect needed: Putin -
Azerbaijan's Aliyev expressed "hope that in the near future through negotiations, peaceful means we will find a resolution in accordance with international principles and further justice."
Meanwhile Sarkisian said Armenia "believes that in fact the conflict can be resolved, that it needs to be resolved on the basis of compromise, and on the basis of the principles proposed by the OSCE" mediators.
Russia, France and the United States had co-chaired mediation efforts under the aegis of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The blueprint for the resolution of the conflict would include a phased return of occupied regions around Nagorny Karabakh to Azerbaijan's control, introduction of peacekeepers and a special transition status for the region, with residents getting a chance to express their will on its ultimate status within Azerbaijan.
While there was little hope of a breakthrough in Sochi, the reaffirmation of the willingness to find a peaceful resolution to the worst post-Soviet conflict was a change from the sabre-rattling that preceded the meeting.
Armenian Defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan said ahead of the summit that expectations of a complete peace or even a return to a full ceasefire were "misplaced".
"Such meetings provide opportunities to start, to continue a dialogue," he said.
"We all know well that dialogue is the only way to resolve questions peacefully."
After a failed attempt earlier this year by French President Francois Hollande to bring together the Armenian and Azeri leaders, Russian analysts saw the Sochi talks as reaffirmation of Russia's predominance in the region.
Putin indicated that Moscow supports international efforts to resolve the crisis, but that he believes Russia has a special role to play as "we have especially close relations and a long history that allows us to frankly exchange views on where we are and what needs to be done to move forward to settle this problem inherited from the past."
He called on his Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues to show "patience, wisdom, and respect to one another in order to find a resolution" to the crisis.
Some analysts have suggested Russia may offer sending in peacekeepers as a way to cool tensions and restore the fragile ceasefire.
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