Moscow’s hands were tied after Yerevan ceded Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan at the urging of the EU
The Kremlin had proposed to Armenia a compromise regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, but Yerevan chose to “go its own way,” resulting in the exodus of ethnic Armenians from the area now controlled by Azerbaijan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
“Everything that happened recently, over the past 2-3 weeks, the blockade of the Lachin corridor and so on, all this was inevitable after [Armenia’s] recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over [Nagorno] Karabakh,” Putin told the 20th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi.
“When and in what way Azerbaijan would establish control there within the framework of its constitution was just a matter of time,” the Russian president added.
Azeri troops took control of Nagorno-Karabakh last month. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians, over 90% of the territory’s population, have since fled to Armenia proper. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has sought to deflect criticism by blaming Russia for what happened – something echoed by European Council head Charles Michel as well.
On Thursday, Putin rejected those insinuations, using a folk saying to compare Michel to a “cow that is mooing when it should be silent.”
The Russian president reminded the audience at Valdai that Yerevan explicitly ceded the region to Baku at a meeting hosted by Michel. Pashinyan signed an agreement to that effect in October 2022 in Prague, the Russian leader said, and then reaffirmed it in Brussels earlier this year.
“By the way, no one told us about this, I personally learned about it from the media,” Putin noted.
While Azerbaijan has always insisted that Karabakh is part of its territory, Armenia never recognized the region’s declaration of independence, which Putin described as “strange.” Either way, Michel and EU colleagues should have at least thought about the fate of ethnic Armenians before talking Pashinyan into surrendering the region, Putin said.
“They should have at least outlined the fate of Armenians of Karabakh, some kind of procedure for the integration of Karabakh into the Azerbaijani state, related to ensuring their security and their rights. But there was nothing of the sort there, only ‘Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan’,” the Russian president said. “What can we do if Armenia itself decided so?”
Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed independence in the early 1990s, and a 1994 Moscow-brokered truce freezing the conflict with ethnic Armenians in control of most of the autonomous region, as well as several surrounding areas of Azerbaijan proper. Putin noted that for 15 years, Moscow had urged Yerevan to strike some kind of compromise with Baku by returning some of these territories and keeping parts of Karabakh.
“We told them, listen, Azerbaijan is growing, its economy is developing, it’s an oil producer with ten million people. Let’s compare potentials. You need to compromise while it’s still possible,” he said.
Yerevan ended up ceding the territories back in 2020, after an Azeri military operation severed the main road connecting Karabakh to Armenia proper.
“Armenia remains our ally” and Russia intends to continue providing humanitarian, medical and other aid to the people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, Putin noted, adding that it is necessary to address their fate “from a long-term perspective.”