Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan appeared to criticize Russia’s role in the Artsakh conflict in a statement marking the anniversary of Armenian independence.
“Independence is strong allied relations for us, but allies are not always allies of you, but of those who ally against you,” Pashinyan said in his August 23 message, not mentioning any specific country by name.
Pashinyan also said that Armenia is still fighting for its independence. “De facto, that process has not ended until today, not because we don’t have independence, but because independence is like health, which even if you have it, you have to take care of it every day,” the statement read. “Independence is security for us. The international structures that provide it are cracking in front of all of us, and one of the first cracks was unfortunately expressed in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The role of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh has come under scrutiny following the August 5 announcement by Armenian authorities that the Armenian residents of the villages of Aghavno and Nerkin Sus and the town of Berdzor, all located along the Lachin (Berdzor) corridor, must evacuate their homes by August 25.
The Berdzor district was ceded to Azerbaijan after the 2020 Artsakh War, except for the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Artsakh. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to form a plan for the construction of an alternate route within the next three years, to which Russian peacekeepers would be redeployed.
While the Armenian government announced that construction of the Armenian section of the route will commence this summer, the Azerbaijani government says that its portion of the road is nearly ready for use.
Several critical pieces of infrastructure, including electric power lines, a gas pipeline and internet cable, are located on the Lachin corridor. It is unclear whether this infrastructure will be rebuilt along the new route or remain under Azerbaijan’s control.
During a meeting with the leaders of the five political parties represented in the Artsakh parliament two days before the evacuation deadline, the leadership of the Russian peacekeeping mission said that the new route will have the same status as the Lachin corridor.
The Russian peacekeeping force said that the “new route will have a legal status of the same corridor, and all security components will be kept, from the five-kilometer security zone to the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces at checkpoints.”
The meeting followed an interview with Russian diplomat Maxim Seleznyov, during which he said that the Russian peacekeepers will not leave the Lachin corridor until the new route is complete.
“The Russian peacekeepers will not be deployed along the new corridor until it is put into operation, and there are agreements in this regard. The parties are in direct contact, and I assure you that the peacekeepers will not move a single centimeter until there is a new corridor,” Seleznyov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on August 18.
Some commentators have questioned why the Armenian government agreed to cede communities along the Lachin corridor prior to the three-year deadline stipulated by the ceasefire agreement.
“It can be firmly stated that Pashinyan’s government had given a certain agreement to hand over the city of Lachin to Azerbaijan, or at least to agree to the new route connecting Artsakh and Armenia before the three-year stipulation,” CivilNet editor-in-chief Karen Harutyunyan wrote in an August 8 article.
“One can endlessly blame Azerbaijan,” Harutyunyan continued. “One can blame Russia, which, according to Armenia’s claims, does not properly fulfill its duties to protect the security of the Armenians of Artsakh. The fact, however, is that the Armenian government has failed to make a sober assessment of the situation that has led to the current deadlock and the loss of human lives.”
The August 5 eviction notice for residents of Aghavno, Nerkin Sus and Berdzor followed incursions by the Azerbaijani armed forces on the northwestern part of the Martakert region of Artsakh and in the direction of the Lachin corridor on August 3 that left at least two Armenian soldiers killed and 19 injured.
Pashinyan blamed the latest border attacks, as well as previous incursions, on the ineffectiveness of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh.
“The capture of the villages of Khtsaberd and Hin Tagher and the capture of Armenian servicemen by Azerbaijan in the presence and with the permission of the peacekeepers of the Russian Federation on December 11, 2020, the capture of the village of Parukh in Nagorno Karabakh on March 24, 2022, again in the presence of the peacekeepers of the Russian Federation, the continuous and deteriorating violations of the ceasefire regime along the contact line, the cases of physically and psychologically intimidating the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in the presence of the peacekeepers are simply unacceptable,” Pashinyan said in an August 4 cabinet meeting.
He continued that it is necessary to “clarify the details of the peacekeeping operation” in Artsakh.
On August 18, Seleznyov said that the peacekeepers “are doing the maximum that their mandate allowed.”
“One would like to see restraint on all sides: on the part of the Azerbaijani troops, and most importantly on the part of the Armenian public. Here in Yerevan and in Stepanakert everyone should know and understand that the Russian peacekeeping contingent is doing the maximum it can, that it is there to try to protect the civilian population from the horrors of war as far as possible,” he said.
Armenian Weekly contributor Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan said that blaming the Russian peacekeeping mission after every escalation increases tensions in Armenia-Russia relations and stokes anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia.
“There is a perception that the Armenian government would like to shift the blame on Russian peacekeepers for surrendering Berdzor and surrounding villages to Azerbaijan, presenting this as a result of the Russia-Azerbaijan deal against Armenian interests,” Poghosyan said in an August 8 op-ed for the Weekly.
“Directing criticism against Russian peacekeepers and stoking anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia are in line with US and EU interests in the region, which would like to see less Russian in the South Caucasus, including no Russian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Poghosyan continued.