Staunton, November 18 – Having orchestrated a ceasefire, recognized the gains the Azerbaijani army has made, and put Russian peacekeepers into the region, all actions most Armenians view as a Russian betrayal of their nation, Vladimir Putin has now tilted in their direction in two ways that could prove fateful.
On the one hand, the Kremlin leader said on Russian TV today that Armenia might have had a better case for the defense of Karabakh if it had recognized that area as an independent state, something that many Armenians have called for but that the international community has opposed, Arkady Dubnov reports (echo.msk.ru/blog/dubnov/2743578-echo/).
And on the other, the Moscow commentator notes, Putin said that the final status of Karabakh, something Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said remains open although Azerbaijani officials say is now closed by their military advance, still must be the subject of negotiations, again something Yerevan very much wants and that Baku opposes.
In the course of the television interview, the Russian leader again rejected any plans by Turkey to introduce peacekeepers, “openly explaining the unacceptability of this for the Armenian side” because of the events of 1915; and he defended Pashinyan against charges by the Armenian opposition that the Armenian premier betrayed his country.
Pashinyan stood up for Armenian interests as long as he could, and he can even be said to have defended them, Putin suggested, by agreeing to conditions which allowed him to save the Armenian army in the field and prevent a humanitarian disaster by agreeing to a ceasefire and the introduction of Russian peacekeepers when he did.
According to the Moscow commentator, Putin had three reasons for tilting toward Armenia after appearing to have been more supportive of Azerbaijan. First, the OSCE Minsk Group whose co-chairs met in Moscow this week are committed to finding some special status for Karabakh.
Second, Putin’s words are a reaction to statements by Azerbaijanis, like President Ilham Aliyev, that there cannot be any talk about some “special status” for Nagorno-Karabakh. Putin clearly wanted to signal that he and not Baku will make that determination, something that Armenians will welcome.
Third and especially important, Dubnov continues, Putin wanted to send a clear signal to Ankara that he will never allow Turkish peacekeepers inside the borders of the former Soviet space. And fourth, the Kremlin wants to keep Pashinyan in office not only to avoid his ouster by the streets but also to avoid having a new and even more anti-Moscow leader come to the fore.
The problem for Putin is that his words will be attended to not only in Yerevan but also in Baku and Ankara; and as a result, his latest re-tilting of his position may come with costs either because the two Turkic states will see this as yet another example of Moscow’s duplicity or because Putin can’t or won’t follow through on his latest remarks.
In that event, Armenians will conclude that their judgment about Russian betrayal is fully proved.