The Armenian Defense Ministry said that the 25-year-old soldier, identified as A. Katanian, lost his way and strayed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory in thick fog. It denied Baku’s initial claims that he was part of an Armenian “sabotage group” that tried to lay landmines in the Lachin district bordering Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Tuesday night that a further investigation into the incident established that Katanian indeed crossed the border by accident. It said he has therefore been released.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan announced the following morning that the serviceman was handed over to the Armenian side and is currently in Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert.
The ministry did not comment on Armenian press reports that the commander of Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in Karabakh, Lieutenant-General Rustam Muradov, personally negotiated with Azerbaijani officials to secure Katanian’s release.
According to a local government official from the Syunik village of Verishen, Katanian was captured at a nearby section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Armenian and Azerbaijani troops deployed there have been locked in a tense standoff for the past month.
The standoff began after Azerbaijani troops reportedly crossed several sections of the border and advanced a few kilometers into Syunik and another Armenian province, Gegharkunik, on May 12-14.
Six other Armenian soldiers were taken prisoner in Gegharkunik on May 27. Baku has refused to free them so far.