By Artur Terian in Moscow
Russia has offered to restore direct telephone connection with Nagorno-Karabakh by giving it a new, Russian access code, officials in Moscow said on Thursday.
Residents of Russia and other former Soviet republics have been unable to make phone calls to Karabakh since the Russian Ministry of Transport and the Rostelecom operator deactivated its external access number, 3747, last month.
The number remains valid in other parts of the world, including the United States. Its first three digits represent Armenia’s international phone code.
The controversial decision followed strong protests from Azerbaijan which demanded that phone connection with the Armenian-controlled disputed territory be routed through its territory. It was welcomed and praised by the Azerbaijani leadership. The Russian authorities, however, deny that they bowed to Azerbaijani pressure.
A spokesman for the Russian Transport Ministry, Sergei Grigorenko, told RFE/RL that his agency and the Russian Foreign Ministry are currently discussing the matter with the Armenian authorities. Grigorenko said Moscow has voiced readiness to provide the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic with a new “Russian international telephone code” similar to ones used by various Russian regions.
He said the Russian side will approach the Azerbaijani government if its proposals are accepted by official Yerevan.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based Armenian groups are continuing to campaign for the repeal of the telecom order. One local activist, Arsen Melik-Shahnazarov, said they are now enlisting the support of prominent ethnic Armenians holding senior positions in the Russian political and economic establishment.