Russia Calls for Ensuring Rights and Security of Artsakh Armenians

Russia Calls for Ensuring Rights and Security of Artsakh Armenians

By Lillian Avedian

Russian authorities have expressed their readiness to collaborate with international efforts to ensure the rights and security of the Armenians of Artsakh, in their latest disagreement with the government of Azerbaijan.

“The Russian Federation has always treated the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan with respect,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko insisted during a July 17 meeting with Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. “At the same time, this does not cancel the task of comprehensively promoting the process of Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization, resolving all issues on the agenda, including ensuring the rights and security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, exclusively by peaceful political and diplomatic methods.”

Rudenko’s statement is the latest in a back-and-forth between the Russian Foreign Ministry and its Azerbaijani counterpart regarding the unblocking of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor. On July 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia released an unambiguous statement urging Azerbaijan to open the Berdzor Corridor and restore Artsakh’s gas and electricity supply. 

“It is a matter of concern that today the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh is developing according to a negative scenario. The humanitarian crisis in the area is deepening,” the statement reads. “This may entail the most dramatic consequences for the Karabakh Armenians, or ordinary residents of the region.”

Azerbaijan has placed Artsakh under blockade since December 2022, leading to critical shortages of food and medical supplies. Azerbaijan has also periodically disrupted Artsakh’s access to natural gas and electricity, which are supplied by Armenia through lines that cut across Azerbaijani-controlled territory. Since June 15, Azerbaijan has also blocked the International Committee of the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers from traveling along the Berdzor Corridor to deliver humanitarian supplies and transfer medical patients to Armenia for treatment. 

Government-sponsored Azerbaijani protesters posing as eco-activists had closed the Berdzor Corridor from December 12, 2022 to April 23, 2023. They ended their protest after Azerbaijan set up a military checkpoint at the entrance to the corridor from Armenia, placing movement along the corridor completely under the control of Azerbaijani border guards. 

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry criticized the statement from its Russian counterpart. It defended the border checkpoint as a measure to “prevent illegal activities and to ensure transparency.” The Foreign Ministry accused Russia of failing to prevent “illegal activities,” including the transportation of military equipment and landmines from Armenia to Artsakh. It also claimed that the Artsakh Defense Army is “supported under the supervision of the Russian peacekeeping contingent.” 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Rudenko called the statement from Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister “incorrect.”

Azerbaijani leaders have repeatedly accused Armenia of transferring weapons to Artsakh, in order to justify the blockade of the Berdzor Corridor. They have not provided evidence for this claim. On February 22, the International Court of Justice rejected a request from Azerbaijan for provisional measures ordering Armenia to stop using the Berdzor Corridor for this purpose, citing insufficient evidence. 

The July 15 statement from Russia’s Foreign Minister also asserts Russia’s readiness to collaborate with international efforts to settle the Artsakh conflict. 

“The Russian side confirms its intention to actively contribute to the efforts of the international community to restore the normal life of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the statement reads. 

While Russia has been preoccupied by its war in Ukraine, Western actors, namely the United States and the EU, have emerged as key mediators in the Artsakh conflict and Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process. Russia has accused the West of attempting to seize Russia’s traditional position as the primary mediator in the South Caucasus. However, in the July 15 statement, Russian authorities signaled closer alignment with the West in the negotiation process.

On the same day that the Russian Foreign Minister released its statement, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and European Council President Charles Michel held their sixth trilateral meeting in Brussels. Michel did not report progress toward a peace treaty after the meeting.

“We are going through one of the most comprehensive and vigorous stages of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Michel said. “And even though our meeting took place in the context of a worrying increase in tensions on the ground, I noted important momentum in the political discussions and efforts.”

Michel “emphasized the need to open the Lachin road” during the meeting, according to a readout from the EU. He also “noted Azerbaijan’s willingness to provide humanitarian supplies via Aghdam.” “I see both options as important and encourage humanitarian deliveries from both sides to ensure the needs of the population are met,” Michel said

Azerbaijani leaders have recently proposed delivering humanitarian supplies to Artsakh from Azerbaijan through the Aghdam-Stepanakert road, rather than from Armenia through the Berdzor Corridor. 

Yerevan-based political analyst Tigran Grigoryan criticized this option, calling it “Azerbaijan’s blackmail” to justify the continued blockade of the Berdzor Corridor. 

“So, they have now legitimized Azerbaijan’s blackmail by agreeing that providing supplies from Aghdam to NK is a workable option. Kudos to Michel and Pashinyan for giving Baku another excuse not to unblock the corridor,” Grigoryan tweeted

Some residents of Askeran, a town in Artsakh near Aghdam, have reportedly decided to install barriers along the Aghdam-Askeran highway, “in order to counter the so-called humanitarian aid to the Artsakh/Karabakh Armenians predetermined by the Azerbaijani authorities.”  

Lillian Avedian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hetq and the Daily Californian. She is pursuing master’s degrees in journalism and Near Eastern Studies at New York University. A human rights journalist and feminist poet, Lillian’s first poetry collection Journey to Tatev was released with Girls on Key Press in spring of 2021.