MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said that despite difficulties, he felt Azerbaijan and Armenia were moving towards a settlement to their decades-old conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Putin made his remarks in a televised Kremlin meeting with leaders of both nations. Russia has traditionally been the main power broker between the two countries on the southwest edge of the former Soviet Union which have fought two major wars in the last three decades.
"In my opinion, on the whole, despite difficulties and problems, and there are enough of them, the situation is nonetheless moving towards a settlement," he said.
Next week, officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia would meet in a bid to ensure that "all unresolved issues will be cleared away", he added.
Earlier, in a clear sign of the tensions between the two nations, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev had argued in Russian for several minutes in Putin's presence.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave inside Azerbaijan, has been a source of conflict since the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 2020, Azerbaijan seized control of areas that had been controlled by ethnic Armenians in and around the mountain enclave, and since then it has periodically restricted access to the only access road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
Baku last month erected a checkpoint along the road on the grounds Armenia was using the route to send weapons to Nagorno-Karabakh, something Yerevan denies.
Putin said the three sides had discussed communications and transport in detail.
"There are still unresolved questions, but in my opinion, and we discussed this with our Azeri and our Armenian colleagues, they are of a purely technical nature," he said.
Outstanding issues between the two sides include the rights and security of some 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
Despite their testy exchange, both Pashinyan and Aliyev said there had been progress lately towards a settlement based on mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity.
Distracted by the war in Ukraine, Russia faces a challenge to maintain its role as broker as the United States and European Union have made their own attempts to bring the sides together.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the RIA news agency earlier as saying the West was trying to interfere in the conflict and discredit Russian peacekeeping policy.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Tatiana Gomozova, Caleb Davis, Felix Light, David Ljunggren and Ron Popeski, writing by Mark Trevelyan and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Andrew Heavens and Grant McCool)