Putin: Armenia not recognizing Artsakh was ‘a significant factor’

Russian President Vladimir Putin replies to media questions on developments in Nagorno-Karabakh (Photo: President of Russia, November 17, 2020)

Pres. Vladimir Putin of Russia made several important comments in his response to journalists on Nov. 17, 2020, regarding the recent Artsakh War ceasefire that he brokered between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Russian leader started by providing the background of the Artsakh conflict: “It all started in the already remote year of 1988, when ethnic clashes took place in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. Armenian civilians fell victim to these events, and later it spread to Nagorno-Karabakh. And since Soviet Union’s leaders did not react duly to these events… let me say it again: these are sensitive issues, and I do not want to side with anyone or decide who was right or wrong. It is no longer possible to determine this now, but it was necessary to put things in order and protect civilians, and this was not done. At that point, the Armenians themselves took up arms, and this protracted conflict, a conflict building for many years broke out. Eventually, it led to a declaration of independence, sovereignty and self-reliance by Karabakh in 1991. The Bishkek agreements were signed in 1994 and this Bishkek memorandum stopped the hostilities at that time. What happened as a result? Karabakh declared independence, as I have said, and another seven adjacent regions came under the control of Armenians, that is, Armenia.”

In response to a journalist’s comment that “no one recognized Karabakh’s status,” Putin stated: “That is true: no one recognized it then or later. By the way, Armenia itself did not recognize it. …With regard to recognizing or not recognizing Karabakh as an independent state, there may be different approaches, but this undoubtedly was a significant factor, including in the course of the bloody conflict that I hope has ended. Because the very fact of the non-recognition of Karabakh, including by Armenia, has left a deep imprint on the course of events and the way it is perceived. To put it bluntly, after the former Georgian leaders’ undoubtedly criminal moves, I mean the attacks against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We recognized the expression of the will of the people living in Crimea to reunite with Russia as just, and we met the people halfway, we did so openly. Some people may like it, others may not like it, but we did it in the interests of the people who live there and in the interests of Russia, and we are not ashamed to speak about it openly. This did not happen with Karabakh, and this, of course, has significantly influenced the developments there.” Later in the interview, Putin added: “Armenia did not recognize the independence and sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh. In terms of international law, it meant that Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjoining districts were an inalienable part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

This was an important declaration by Putin. Armenia has been reluctant to recognize Artsakh’s independence out of concern of a backlash from the international community. It was feared that such a move would have disrupted the peaceful negotiations and could have possibly resulted in war or at least rejection and sanctions against Armenia by the United Nations.

Armenia’s leaders, up until Putin’s above comments, had no idea that not recognizing Artsakh’s independence was viewed by the Russian leader as a mistake, negatively affecting Russia’s support. During the past decades of negotiations with the Minsk Group of mediators, including Russia, one wonders if any of Armenia’s leaders ever asked Putin or his predecessors for their reaction to Armenia’s possible recognition of Artsakh. If Armenia’s leaders did not raise this issue, it was a major mistake. Had Armenia known that Russia would have welcomed its recognition of Artsakh, the subsequent events, including the recent war, would have turned out much different. Some Armenians had suggested that if Artsakh had been united with Armenia, that would have compelled Russia to defend Artsakh from any foreign attacks based on the mutual defense treaty between Russia and Armenia. As I suggested previously, maybe at this late stage, Armenia would finally listen to Putin’s advice and recognize Artsakh’s independence or unify it with Armenia in order to have a bargaining chip in the negotiations with Azerbaijan.

In response to another question regarding the status of Artsakh, Putin stated: “Yes, there is this problem since Karabakh’s final status has not been settled. We have agreed to maintain the status quo. What happens next will be decided eventually by future leaders and future participants in this process. I think if proper conditions are created for normal life and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, between people in everyday life, especially in the conflict zone, are restored, it will create an environment for determining Karabakh’s status.” This response provides a ray of hope that with time, Artsakh may be able to attain its goal of securing an independent status. Interestingly, Pres. Putin left such a decision to “future leaders and future participants in this process.”

Another question was regarding the territories surrounding Artsakh and the status of Shushi prior to its occupation by Azerbaijan. Pres. Putin explained that the return of the territories surrounding Artsakh to Azerbaijan was first suggested by Russia in 2013 and supported by France and the United States. He said that this would have preserved Artsakh’s status quo “as an unrecognized state,” and its final status to be resolved in the future. Putin stated that there would have been no war if Armenia had agreed to the return of refugees of both sides to their previous homes.

Regarding the city of Shushi, Putin confirmed that its transfer to Azerbaijan was never raised. Putin recalled that 20 days before the end of the war, while Azerbaijan had only conquered “an insignificant part” of Artsakh, he had managed to convince Pres. Aliyev to end the hostilities on condition that Azeri refugees would be able to return to Shushi under Armenian control in the presence of Russian peacekeepers. However, Prime Minister Pashinyan told Putin that this condition is unacceptable to Armenia and continued the fighting, resulting in the loss of Shushi. Pres. Putin added that there was no “treason” on the part of Pashinyan.

Pres. Putin also made several important deferential remarks regarding Turkey. The Russian leader acknowledged that “Azerbaijan is an independent sovereign state, and has every right to choose allies as it deems fit. Who can deny it this right? This is my first point. Second, as I have already mentioned, nobody has recognized Karabakh’s independence, [not] even Armenia. What does this mean in terms of international law? It means that Azerbaijan sought to recover territories which Azerbaijan and the entire international community view as Azerbaijani territory. In this context, it had the right to choose any ally who could assist it in this endeavor…. You can assess Turkey’s actions any way you want, but it can hardly be accused of violating international law.”

It is noteworthy that Putin did not mention Turkey’s violations of international law by recruiting terrorists from Northern Syria and transporting them to Azerbaijan to fight against Artsakh. Given Russia’s multiple interests in cooperating with Turkey, it is not surprising that he ignored Turkey’s crimes.

Pres. Putin gave an unexpected reason for blocking Turkish peacekeepers from joining Russians in Artsakh. He stated that it was because of “the bitter legacy of the past, the tragic and bloody events that took place during the First World War, the genocide. This is a factor that can be recognized or rejected; some people do and others don’t recognize it. This is not a problem for Russia; we have long recognized it. But why provoke the Armenian side by the presence of Turkish military personnel on the contact line? I believe that President Erdogan was and is fully aware of this.”

Finally, Pres. Putin justified Prime Minister Pashinyan’s agreement to cease the hostilities. He added that any rejection of the signed agreement would be “suicidal” for Armenia…. “It would be a huge mistake.” Putin also acknowledged that even though he had good relations with Armenia’s previous leaders, Russia’s relationship with Armenia did not change after Pashinyan came to power. This statement could be explained by the fact that since the Armenian opposition is critical of Pashinyan signing the ceasefire agreement, Putin is reluctant to criticize him because his opponents, should they come to power, would reject the agreement which could possibly restart the war with Azerbaijan.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

8 Comments

  1. It is highly unlikeky that any of this is true. I highly doubt Russia would have welcomed a recognition of Artsakh. Putin would have simply said: no country recognized Artsakh except Armenia which included not only Artsakh but the adjacent territories as well, and this provoked Azerbaijan. The game is simple, he is trying to claim that we have made mistakes which is not true, maybe recognition of Artsakh would have been better in a way but it is highly unlikely that it would have made the result of the last war any different. People should know something, Russia wanted this. It knew about the attack, there is no way Turkey gave this massive support to Azerbaijan without the Russians agreeing on it. The balance of power changed and Azerbaijan has become important and so Russia had to put its military on the ground to take control. One might wonder, will Russia have a different approach if we recognized Artsakh now? Azerbaijan and Turkey will call it provocation and Russia will condemn the move, plain and simple. Talking about Shushi is also a joke, Pashinyan called for Russian peacekeepers in October when Shushi was secured, Russia back then said all sides have to agree on this. Which means Russia decidedbto wait until Azerbaijan fulfills its task. Enough talk about the past, we have done nothing as a nation except talk about what could have happened and what could have been. The deal has been made, let us work, make a great economy and a great military, then Russia will love to support us back. Plain and simple.

  2. Harut, you are being silly, at best uninformed. Russian officials have for many years been telling Yerevan to recognize Artsakh if Armenians want other nations to recognize Artsakh. This historic defeat and tragedy is first and foremost our fault. Nikol’s regime was put into power by the “international community” for the main purpose of handing Artsakh to the Azeris. Because he is such an incompetent and vile person, he ended up giving Azeris much more than Baku could ever imagine, and killed thousands of Armenians in the process…

    • Of course Russia did nothing wrong ‘concerned Armenian’ or rather should I say concerned Russian. Same old pro-Russia trolling always letting Russians off the hook. How is the weather like in Moscow.

    • “Russian officials have for many years been telling Yerevan to recognize Artsakh if Armenians want other nations to recognize Artsakh”. Ah, no they haven’t. They have been pushing a give back lands for some future imaginary referendum deal. Total nonsense. Lets be clear: It was Russia that gave Artsakh and Nakichivan to Azerbaijan in the first place. It was Russia that gave a green light to the pogroms in Baku and Sumgaite. How does one ignore this? Russia likes a weak and dependent Armenia. This war scenario outcome fits perfectly for Armenia screw light’s interest, basically Russian wishes. Pashinyan, though not a bad person, is in way over his head. He is neither politically nor militarily savvy. He is a pawn. Useless to be in this current position for Armenia’s best future interest but terrific for the current Turkish Azeri and even Russian wishes. A strong independent Armenia isn’t good for Russia. That’s always been perfectly clear.

      Armenia’s next leaders must make it clear that the capitulation was to end the bloodshed, nothing more.. but that Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan and that if need be will eventually start another war in the future to liberate historic Armenian lands yet once again. Make it clear that this war isn’t over..The reason screw light calls this stance “suicide” is because again, it likes a weak Armenia dependent upon Russian hegemony and is making it perfectly clear that it wont help its supposed ally in any way to strengthen it for any future endeavors. Armenia needs to use Russia as a pawn. Nothing more. Cozy up to it enough to get cheap modern military weaponry. Then build the most advanced army ever as its main goal. It needs to indoctrinate diaspora army units to massively increase manpower and resources as diaspora kids on the front line will generate and motivate like nothing else will. Also diaspora trained units will stay and repopulate and contribute and counter the years of theft by the Karabakh traitors who promoted emigration. Its a win win win.. All future funds need to be spent on security. A great economy is fine but without stable security Armenia cant be the master of its own destiny and will just be at the whim of our perpetual enemies and for screw light as well..Russia. Independent and strong is nothing Russia wants for Armenia..That simple.

  3. I don’t understand this article, without knowing hard facts it becomes speculation. Why would I believe a fraud like Putin? Russia has been a hypocrite against Armenia for the past century, there is zero indication that anything is different now.

    Before 2020, 2016 was the key year. Both times Russia knew of any attack, was there any warning, preparations, support, solidarity, etc for Armenians? NO! For the past 30 years, all we got from “ally” Russia was the same as any other international response when Azerbaijan committed acts of war and violence: the false equivalency of “both sides need to stop”. However, if it had been Armenia instigating such acts, both the international community and Russia would have come down hard on Armenia. Throughout that period of 30 years, only the nation of Cyprus who is powerless to help Armenia ever bravely expressed outright support and solidarity with Armenia.

    I do not believe that “it was OK with Russia is Armenia had recognized Artsakh”. Putin is just claiming that now to save face for its blatant and outright treachery against Armenia. If it had been OK with Russia, Armenia would have recognized Artsakh long ago.

    Putin even reveals his own fraud by talking about Crimea, Ossetia and Abkhazia and, laughably, “international law”. When it came to Russia, “international law” was nowhere to be seen. When it came to Armenia, as always, suddenly “international law” is a thing. Even here, Putin conveniently and deliberately avoids the principle of Self-Determination which is also “international law”. Oh and by the way, was it part of “international law” to violate Armenia’s own sovereignty and territory to give Turks/Azeris a road through Armenia? TOTAL FRAUD!

    One has to be very gullible to believe that Russia “had no idea about this war”, and that now “tragically we must sign an agreement”. This whole thing was scripted by Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the “Armenian”-“Government”, and possibly oil and energy interests were at play here, to the detriment of who else, Armenia, as always. I believe our fighters in Artsakh before I believe any lying scumbag politician whether from Armenia or Russia. Before this “war” was over, a lot of talk was going on about “dirty politics” on the ground, and all of it proved to be true.

  4. It is very unusual for Harut to report on the statements of a high ranking official without offering his analyses as he did here. We know Putin would never have allowed Armenia to recognize Artsakh not to mention the pariah it would have become with the Minsk Group and others. In the very unlikely event that the French govt takes the suggestion of the Senate and recognizes Artsakh and Armenia follows suit, Putin will surely go back on his word and say that France has forfeited its place in the Minsk Group and Armenia cannot recognize Artsakh now after peacekeepers are already there. We must see Putin for who he is. Russia is unwilling to undo what Stalin did. Russia was in on the fix. Russia got what it wanted. Putin calls Az a sovereign country who has every right to invite Turkey in to attack. Had a foreign country assisted Armenia, Putin would have pitched a fit. He even said Armenia proper was not attacked (a blatant lie) and thus the CSTO had no obligation to help.

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