Pro-Russian activists react in a street as fireworks explode in the sky, after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, February 21, 2022

Karabakh Leaders Hail Russian Recognition of Breakaway Ukraine Regions

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By Astghik Bedevian

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL) — Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership on February 22 welcomed Russian recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics.

By contrast, the Armenian government was in no rush to react to the development that will likely deepen Moscow’s standoff with Ukraine and the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic in a lengthy televised address aired late on Monday. He went on to order the deployment of Russian forces there to “keep the peace.”

The move, which came after months of Russian military buildup along the Russia-Ukraine border, drew strong condemnation from the United States and European powers. They accused Moscow of violating international law and the 2014 Minsk agreements to end the conflict in the wider Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

“The right of nations to self-determination and building their own state is inalienable for every people and is a fundamental principle of international law,” said Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of Karabakh, who welcomed Putin’s “historic” decision.

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“The establishment of an independent state and its international recognition becomes imperative especially in the face of existential dangers, as it is the most effective and civilized means of preventing bloodshed and humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Harutyunyan drew parallels with the long-running conflict over Karabakh, saying that the disputed territory’s predominantly Armenian population deserves “international recognition of its sovereign state.”

Karabakh had declared itself an independent republic in 1991. Its secession from Azerbaijan has not been formally recognized by any country, including Armenia.

Russian presence in Karabakh increased dramatically after Moscow brokered a ceasefire agreement that stopped a six-week Armenian-Azerbaijani war in November 2020. The deal led to the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops in and around Karabakh. The peacekeepers have helped tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians, who fled the fighting, to return to their homes.

Official Yerevan did not comment on Putin’s decision as of Tuesday afternoon, February 22. Lawmakers representing Armenia ruling Civil Contract party also avoided passing judgment on it.

“I will not comment on that for now because I have to wait until an [official] position is formulated,” one of them, Maria Karapetian, told reporters. “I have not been able to discuss last night’s geopolitical developments with my colleagues.”

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There was also no official reaction from the main opposition Hayastan alliance led by former President Robert Kocharyan. Still, one of its senior lawmakers, Artsvik Minasyan, said he believes Yerevan should “at least not speak out against” the Russian move.

“It is obvious that we need to take advantage of this situation to advance the issue of Karabakh recognition,” Minasian said.

Putin spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan by phone hours before announcing the recognition of the breakaway territories. Pashinyan’s press office said they discussed the Karabakh conflict and “the current situation in Russian-Ukrainian relations.”

The Kremlin made no mention of the Ukraine crisis in its readout of the phone call.

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