Armenia’s Leaders Bow to Russia as Opposition Protests Continue and Aghdam is Surrendered to Azerbaijan
The president and foreign minister of Russia issued stern warnings to those, they said, who are attempting to thwart an agreement that ended the 45-day Karabakh War, while a high-level delegation of Russian minister descended on Yerevan on Saturday to ensure that all parties comply with the letter of the accord.
The Russian leadership’s visit took place as opposition protesters continued to demand Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation and a day after Aghdam was officially handed over to Azerbaijan as part of the agreement, which will see the surrender of more Armenian territories in the coming days, including the millennia-old city of Shushi. The visit to Yerevan also coincides with the completion of Russia’s deployment of peacekeepers and border guards to Armenia and Artsakh.
“We sense that there are attempts to stop the implementation of the declaration signed by the Russian President, Prime Minister of Armenia and President of Azerbaijan on November 9,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Yerevan on Saturday. “There are attempts to impede the full implementation of that agreement, though everyone has to admit that it is being successfully implemented. We are also seeing attempts to change the nature of the peacekeeping mission. While those attempts are still veiled, but they are taking place.”
A similar concern was voiced Friday by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who warned that the only other alternative would be all out war.
“Those who are seeking to do it [roll back the implementation of the agreements] must be aware that the only alternative is war,” Putin said at a meeting Friday called to discuss the Russian peacekeeping mission in Karabakh. “And if, God forbid, that happens, blood of those killed will be on the hands of those who are seeking to damage these agreements. Everyone must understand and be cognizant of this.”
Lavrov and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu headed the ministerial delegation to Yerevan on Saturday as they met with their counterparts, as well as Pashinyan and President Armen Sarkissian both of whom seem to bow to Moscow—and especially Putin—for engineering the agreement that ended the war.
“Everyone accepted that this statement is the only means for the settlement of the situation, which was very tough several weeks ago. It was stated that all attempts both within the country and abroad on questioning that statement are unacceptable. And we affirmed our determination to do everything for the agreement to remain in force. Armenia’s leadership—the President, the Prime Minister—with whom we met, stated that the agreement has helped to solve serious problems, to save lives, and they are committed to the continuing the implementation of the accord,” Lavrov said.
In addition to Lavrov and Shoygu, the Russian delegation included Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk and Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, as well as the head of Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s health and human services agency, Anna Popova.
“It does not matter where Armenians live. They know that if it were not for your and Vladimir Putin’s efforts, we would continue to lose young lives today,” said President Sarkissian told Lavrov on Saturday.
“In the first days of the war we knew that the leadership of Russia, and the president personally, were making every effort to stop the military hostilities. Once again, we are convinced that true friendship becomes apparent in difficult times,” added Sarkissian.
“As you said, it [the agreement] made it possible to stop the war. For the first time, after so many agreements, the ceasefire is really working, because there is a monitoring mechanism in place,” Lavrov told Sarkissian, adding that Russia, especially Putin, were grateful that Armenia signed the accord.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Pashinyan who met with Lavrov and Shoygu separately, before joining a larger inter-governmental meeting involving the Russian delegation and their Armenian counterparts.
During that meeting Lavrov discussed Turkey’s role in the ceasefire maintenance operations, explaining that the Russian-Turkish monitoring center will operate remotely.
The humanitarian component was also discussed with the Russian ministers, as tens of thousands of Artsakh residents have been displaced from their homes, and with the hand over of more Armenian territories on the horizon in the coming days and weeks, that number is certain to grow.
Before leaving Yerevan for Baku, the Russian government representatives pledged that it was committed to addressing those issues, with Lavrov pointing to the opening on Friday of humanitarian relief center in Stepanakert as a first step.
During a meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Lavrov outlined the role Moscow anticipates the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to be playing, saying that they will join in resolving the humanitarian problems in Karabakh.
“We, through our peacekeepers, together with our Azerbaijani colleagues, with the participation of the Armenia, are actively coordinating concrete ways of solving the humanitarian problems in the interests of returning people. This refers both to the arrangement of civil infrastructure and the establishment of everything necessary to unblock economic and transport communications,” Lavrov said.
“And, of course, we expect that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, who together with Russia have been leading the political process for many years, will join in solving these problems, taking into consideration the specifics of November 9 agreement,” Lavrov said.