BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
After Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted and failed to establish a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Armenians around the world have been wondering why is he so reluctant to intervene more forcefully in the Artsakh War and stop the bloodshed.
There have been many speculations about Putin’s unexpected hands off approach to the Artsakh conflict, including several conspiracy theories which are not worth mentioning.
During an interview with a Western journalist last week, Putin finally revealed his plans to resolve the Artsakh conflict.
This is what Putin stated:
“You said that Russia has always had special ties with Armenia. But we have always had special relations with Azerbaijan too. More than two million Armenians and about two million Azerbaijanis live in Russia. These are not only those people who came for temporary work, but also those who live here almost permanently. Working in Russia, they send billions of dollars to support their families. All these people have very stable, close ties in Russia at the humanitarian level, interpersonal, business, family. Therefore, for us, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are equal partners. And it is a great tragedy for us when people die there. We want to build full-fledged relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. In each case of building relations with each of these countries there is something that distinguishes our relationship with another partner. Well, with Armenia this is Christianity. But we have very close ties with Azerbaijan in other areas as well. As for the religious component, I want to draw your attention to the fact that almost 15 percent of the population of the Russian Federation is Muslim. And even in this sense, Azerbaijan is not a foreign country for us. But what we definitely cannot forget is what happened in the fate of the Armenian people, the Armenian nation, during the First World War; a huge tragedy for the Armenian people. This is the second part. The third is that this conflict began just as an interstate conflict and a struggle for territories. It began as an ethnic confrontation. It is also unfortunately, a fact when in Sumgait [Azerbaijan], and then in Nagorno Karabakh, cruel crimes were committed against the Armenian people. We must take all this into account in a complex. At the same time, we understand that a situation in which a significant part of the territory of Azerbaijan has been lost by the country cannot last forever. Over the course of many, many years, we have proposed a variety of options for resolving this crisis in order to stabilize the situation for a long historical perspective. I will not go into details now, but believe me, it was hard work to bring the positions closer together. At some moments, it seemed that a little more, a little more, one more step, and we would find a solution. Unfortunately, this did not happen and today we have a conflict in its worst form. And the tragedy is that people are dying. You know, there are many losses on both sides. According to our information, there are more than two thousand dead on each side. The total death toll is already approaching five thousand. I draw your attention to the fact that 13,000 Soviet soldiers died in the 10 years of the war in Afghanistan. And in Karabakh, in such a short period of time, almost five thousand people have already died. How many were injured! How many people are suffering, how many children! Therefore, this is a special situation for us. Yes, the Minsk Group was created in 1992. Russia, France, and the United States as co-chairs, we are responsible for organizing this negotiating process. It is clear, I am 100 percent sure here that all participants in this process sincerely strive for the situation to be resolved. However, no one is as interested in this as Russia. This is happening in a broad sense with our people with our friends, with our relatives. Therefore, we take a position that would allow us to enjoy the trust of both sides and play an essential role as mediators in the settlement of this conflict to bring their positions closer. I would very much like this compromise to be found. As you know, I am in very close contact with both President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan. I talk to them on the phone several times a day. Our foreign ministers, defense ministers, heads of special services are in constant contact. You know the foreign ministers of both countries came to visit us. They met in Washington on October 23rd. I very much hope that our American partners will act in unison with us and help the settlement. Let us hope for the best.”
I transcribed this lengthy translation of Putin’s remarks without any omission in order to provide the full context of his statement.
Obviously, Armenians are not happy with Pres. Putin equating with Armenia Russia’s relationship with Azerbaijan. Armenia is a strategic ally of Russia with a mutual defense treaty and with a Russian military base located on its territory. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is a puppet of Turkey and has taken many steps to undermine Russia’s geopolitical interests, such as the Azeri gas and oil pipelines that reduce the need for Russian oil in Europe.
Furthermore, the involvement of the Turkish military on Azerbaijan’s territory, a part of the Russian sphere of influence, undermines Russia’s interests. Even more alarming is Turkey’s recruitment of Syrian terrorists and their transfer to Azerbaijan to fight against Artsakh. This is an obvious danger to the national security of Russia. Putin did not mention the nefarious role of these terrorists.
The Russian government has made it clear, however, that the mutual defense treaty with Armenia only applies in case of a foreign attack on the Republic of Armenia, which excludes the territory of Artsakh, even though there have been several missile attacks on Armenia’s mainland.
Russia, on the other hand, has other interests with Turkey that it takes into consideration. These are:
- Russia’s attempts in recent years to win over and separate Turkey from NATO.
- Multi-billion trade between Russia and Turkey with Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles and the planned construction of a Russian nuclear power plant in Turkey.
- Russia’s unwillingness to go to war against Azerbaijan and Turkey to protect Artsakh.
- Russia and Turkey have conflicting interests in Syria and Libya where they have an uneasy understanding. The Artsakh conflict would place further pressure on the Russian-Turkish relationship should Russia become actively involved in the Artsakh war against Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Most significantly, as Putin said in his above quoted statement: “a situation in which a significant part of the territory of Azerbaijan has been lost by the country cannot last forever.” In other words, Putin implies that he is willing to accept that Azerbaijan militarily reoccupies the seven regions surrounding Artsakh and then negotiate the settlement of the final status of Artsakh. This is totally unacceptable for Armenia and Artsakh. It is imperative to counter the military moves of Azerbaijan and Turkey in order not to allow them to create new facts on the ground which would weaken Armenia’s bargaining position. Furthermore, the loss of the territories surrounding Artsakh — the buffer zone — would further threaten the existence of Artsakh.
Even more alarming, Putin announced that “many countries, including Turkey and a host of European states” should work together to find a consensus. Armenia and Artsakh would categorically reject Turkey’s involvement. How could Turkey, the instigator of the war, be considered a neutral mediator?
Armenians are somewhat reassured that in recent days, various Russian officials have confirmed Russia’s treaty obligation to defend the territory of the Republic of Armenia from any attacks by Azerbaijan or Turkey.
Armenia and Artsakh have difficult days ahead, left all alone to their fate. Only a resolute defense will safeguard the Armenian population of Artsakh.