Russian-Armenian businessman and billionaire Ruben Vardanyan was appointed Minister of State by President Arayik Harutyunyan on Friday.
Vardanyan will be succeeding Artak Beglaryan, who has held the post since 2021. He will oversee all of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ministries bar the Ministries of Defence and Interior — unlike his predecessor, who only coordinated the work of four ministries.
The post of State Minister was created in 2018 to replace the position of Prime Minister when Nagorno-Karabakh transitioned into a presidential system. Ministers of State are directly appointed by the incumbent president.
Despite possessing more executive power than his predecessor, Vardanyan’s appointment is ‘not seen as a concession of President Harutyunyan’s powers’, according to Aram Harutyunyan, an MP of the ruling Free Motherland party. The MP has claimed that Vardanyan’s appointment came in response to the ‘present situation in Nagorno-Karabakh’, and that the powers of the Parliament will also be broadened through future constitutional amendments.
Vardanyan renounced his Russian citizenship and moved to Nagorno-Karabakh in September.
‘I am grateful to Russia; I was there as a person, as a businessman and as a professional’, stated Vardanyan upon moving to the disputed region. ‘Realising all the risks, I made a decision to renounce Russian citizenship and move to Artsakh as an Armenian citizen. This decision was very difficult for me, but it is the right way.’
When President Harutyunyan offered the post to Vardanyan, the businessman said that he would only accept if the decision received ‘wide public support’.
Tigran Petrosyan, the chair of the opposition Tomorrow’s Artsakh party, welcomed Vardanyan’s appointment. On 21 October, his party ended a 55-day sit-in in Stepanakert demanding a change in government.
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‘If you mean security purely from a military point of view, [Vardanyan] cannot have an impact. And if our economy develops, that also strengthens security. Undoubtedly, the change of the state minister was one of our priorities and was included in our demands’, said Petrosyan.
Vardanyan, whose estate is estimated to be worth around $1 billion, is a popular figure in Armenia. As an inventor and philanthropist, he co-founded the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, an award given to those ‘helping the most destitute’ on behalf of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
Vardanyan’s appointment was met with some controversy in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh due to his involvement in Russian politics and economics; the businessman was one of the founders of Troika Dialog, a multinational investment firm that was identified in an OCCRP investigation for its involvement in a large-scale money laundering scheme which channelled $4.6 billion of wealth from Russia to the West between 2006 and 2013.
An earlier version of this article identified Vardanyan as president of Sberbank CIB. This has been removed, as his involvement with the bank could not be verified.
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.