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Armenia slams Russia for ‘absolute indifference’

31 August 2023
A Russian peacekeeper base inside the Lachin Corridor in 2022. Photo: Ani Avetisyan/OC Media

Armenia has condemned Russia’s ‘absolute indifference’ towards Azerbaijani attacks on Armenian territory, after Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Armenia was to blame for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

In a scathing statement on Thursday, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry accused Russia of ‘absolute indifference' to Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenia’s territory in September 2022. It added that Russia had then ‘[left] unanswered’ an official request from Armenia for military assistance as per agreements with both Russia and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). 

The statement also accused Russia and the CSTO of maintaining the ‘obviously false and highly dangerous thesis’ that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan was not demarcated, and that attacks on and incursions into Armenian territory were consequently difficult to verify. 

The Foreign Ministry statement additionally accused Russian peacekeepers of acting ‘outside the scope of their mission and geographical area of responsibility’ during a conflict near the Lachin checkpoint on 15 June, and of providing support to Azerbaijani soldiers attempting to plant an Azerbaijani flag on Armenian territory. 

After the incident, in which one Azerbaijani and one Armenian soldier were wounded, Azerbaijani border forces implemented a total blockade of the Lachin Corridor, depriving the region’s population of any supplies or humanitarian assistance.

‘In the presence of Russian peacekeepers, the Azerbaijani side resorted to such steps as the kidnapping of Nagorno-Karabakh residents in the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the Lachin Corridor’, the statement asserted, referring to recent arrests of civilians attempting to cross the Lachin checkpoint. 

[Read more: Azerbaijan arrests three Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians for ‘insulting’ Azerbaijani flag]

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The ministry’s statement came in response to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s claim on Wednesday that Armenia was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.

‘I would like to remind you that the current situation in the Lachin corridor is a consequence of Armenia’s recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the territory of Azerbaijan’, said Zakharova. 

Zakharova also dismissed criticism of perceived inaction by the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming that given the context, criticising the peacekeeping forces was ‘inappropriate, wrong, and unjustified’. 

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry directly responded to Zakharova early on Thursday, with the ministry’s spokesperson Ani Badalyan saying that Zakharova’s statement ‘causes confusion and disappointment’. 

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry also claimed that while Armenia had agreed to a Russian proposition within Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations that discussion of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh be postponed indefinitely, Russia did not further pursue that approach after it was rejected by Azerbaijan. 

A ‘radical change’ 

Zakharova’s assertions echoed a 15 July statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which claimed that Pashinyan’s decision to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity ‘radically changed the fundamental conditions’ relating to both the peace agreement signed in November 2020, which ended the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, and the status of Russian peacekeeping forces in the region.  

A Russian peacekeeping mission was deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh immediately following the war, with a mandate to both ensure the security of the region’s Armenian population and oversee free passage of vehicles along the Lachin Corridor. 

Since Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor began in December 2022, both officials and broader society in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have accused Russia’s peacekeeping contingent and political leaders of being inactive, deepening existing concerns and criticism regarding the mission and Russia’s involvement in the region. 

As the blockade worsened, Russian peacekeepers were accused of taking money from people in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to import basic necessities from Armenia, or even allow people to travel out of the region. After the peacekeeping forces were barred by Azerbaijan from using the Lachin Corridor to deliver aid, there have been widespread reports in Nagorno-Karabakh that they have used helicopters to deliver supplies for themselves. 

The obstruction of the Lachin Corridor, the main road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, has resulted in severe shortages of food and basic necessities, compounded by a lack of fuel and electricity. The region’s government and humanitarian organisations have warned that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with the region’s population increasingly at risk of starvation. 

[Read more: First death from starvation reported in blockade-struck Nagorno-Karabakh]

Aid convoys sent from Armenia by the Armenian and French governments in July and August have been refused entry to the region, remaining stationed in Syunik Province, south Armenia, which borders the Lachin corridor. 

While Azerbaijan has pushed for Nagorno-Karabakh to accept aid sent via the Aghdam road through Azerbaijan-controlled territory, a convoy of 40 tonnes of flour sent by Azerbaijan’s Red Crescent on Tuesday was refused entry by both Nagorno-Karabakh officials and civilians. 

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Read in Georgian on On.ge.