YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Russian peacekeepers “will not move a single centimeter” from the existing Lachin corridor until a new road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia is put into operation, according to a senior Russian diplomat in Yerevan.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday, Maxim Seleznyov, a counsellor-envoy at the Russian embassy in Armenia, stressed that there are agreements in this regard and the parties are in direct contact over this issue. He did not elaborate.
“Russian peacekeepers will move only at the moment when the new Lachin corridor is opened. The tripartite statement [from November 9, 2020] spells out the steps, the sequence of steps. First, the corridor is completed, and as it comes into operation, Russian peacekeepers take control of a five-kilometer corridor around this road,” Seleznyov said.
Amid fresh fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this month ethnic Armenian authorities in Stepanakert said that the Azerbaijani side, through Russian peacekeepers, demanded that a new connection be organized between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia along a new route.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities informed the few remaining Armenian residents of the town of Berdzor and the villages of Aghavno and Sus that are situated along the current Lachin corridor that no Russian peacekeepers will be left in the territory after August 25 and, therefore, they needed to leave their homes before the end of the month.
Hayk Khanumian, a member of Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto government in charge of territorial administration and infrastructure, in particular, said to people: “As you know, the existing corridor has been moved to the south, and in the southern direction the road in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is already ready, and in the territory of Armenia the road will be ready next year. The corridor will move south, so the Russian contingent will not be here after August 25. In this view, a necessity emerged, according to our civil defense plans, to discuss the issues of moving people.”
Meanwhile, the Russian diplomat stressed on Wednesday that the Russian peacekeepers will be redeployed only when the new road is ready.
“The Russian peacekeepers will not be deployed along the new corridor until it is put into operation, and there are agreements in this regard. The parties are in direct contact, and I assure you that the peacekeepers will not move a single centimeter until there is a new corridor,” Seleznyov said.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service made inquiries from Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities regarding this question and the answer received from them in fact confirms that the Russian peacekeepers will be redeployed to the new road “after its construction is completed.”
Earlier, official Yerevan said that the Armenian side would complete the construction of its section of the new road by next May.
During a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan on August 4, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that it was necessary to sign a document in a trilateral format regarding both the redeployment of peacekeepers and the infrastructures that feed Nagorno-Karabakh. It is still unclear whether Baku has agreed to sign such a document.
In his remarks Pashinyan also criticized the Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh following the most serious fighting along the line of contact that left two Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldiers dead.
The Armenian leader urged Russia to do more to prevent further ceasefire violations, charging that Baku has been stepping up such violations despite the presence of Russian peacekeeping troops in the region.
During a news briefing in Moscow on August 11, Ivan Nechayev, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, rejected what he described as “separate criticism” of Russia’s peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, stressing that “the Russian peacekeepers continue to be engaged in active work, taking necessary efforts for stabilization on the ground.”
Seleznyov also said that the Russian peacekeepers “are doing the maximum that their mandate allows.”
“One would like to see restraint on all sides: on the part of the Azerbaijani troops, and most importantly on the part of the Armenian public. Here in Yerevan and in Stepanakert everyone should know and understand that the Russian peacekeeping contingent is doing the maximum it can, that it is there to try to protect the civilian population from the horrors of war as far as possible,” the Russian diplomat stressed.
At the same time, Seleznyov said that Russia is ready to expand the powers of its peacekeeping mission in Karabakh if Yerevan and Baku agree on this issue.