Maria Zakharova, an official representative of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a November 5 news briefing in Moscow that jihadist mercenaries with “blood on their hands” are being deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“All this cannot but raise our serious concern, as such developments are fraught with the emergence of a new terrorist enclave, now in the South Caucasus,” Zakharova said.
“Russia stated about it openly as soon as it got corresponding data,” she added.
In an interview with the Russian Kommersant daily earlier this week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the number of mercenaries from the Middle East in Nagorno-Karabakh was approaching 2,000.
Late last week ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh claimed to have captured at least two fighters from Syria fighting on Azerbaijan’s side. According to the Armenian side, both admitted during interrogations that they had been recruited by Turkey.
Turkey and Azerbaijan brush aside accusations of deploying thousands of mercenaries to fight against Armenians.
In an interview with the Spanish EFE news agency on November 5 Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev responded to Lavrov’s remarks about the presence of mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh, calling it a rumor.
“I regret that high-ranking officials of the countries that should be neutral and act on the basis of the mandate given to them by the OSCE use these unconfirmed ‘information’ and rumors,” Aliyev said, reiterating that there are no mercenaries on the territory of Azerbaijan.
“There is not a single proof that any foreign fighter is fighting on our side,” Aliyev said.
Armenia’s arguments on the presence of mercenaries on the Azerbaijani side have also been supported by multiple investigative reports by Western journalists, some of which alleged that Turkey began recruiting jihadist fighters to be later deployed in Azerbaijan as early as July.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) in October one such journalist, Lindsey Snell, estimated that the number of Syrian mercenaries fighting for Azerbaijan at one point was around 2,000.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based human rights organization, more than 200 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have been killed in Nagorno-Karabakh since fighting broke out in the region in late September.