Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh (Foreign Policy photo)

Pashinyan Ally Downplays Armenian-Russian ‘Differences’ over Peacekeepers

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By Naira Nalbandian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — An Armenian pro-government lawmaker has denied any major differences between Yerevan and Moscow over the activities of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh after last week’s deadly fighting in the disputed region.

Vigen Khachatryan, a member of the ruling Civil Contract faction, said on Monday, August 8, that the situation is far from being described as “tensions” or “differences,” but rather it is a result of a lack of understanding.

Following clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces along the Lachin corridor near Nagorno-Karabakh early last week that reportedly left two Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldier dead, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called for “adjusting details” of the Russian peacekeeping operation in the region. He, in particular, suggested giving the Russian contingent a “broader international mandate.”

“If we see that solutions are not possible in a trilateral [Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani] format, we will have to think about activating additional international mechanisms,” Pashinyan warned on Thursday without elaborating.

Moscow effectively dismissed Armenian criticism as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the following day that they had not received any concrete proposals which the Armenian prime minister wants to discuss in the context of the Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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“So I can’t guess now,” the top Russian diplomat said, stressing at the same time that the Russian peacekeepers are “making every effort to stabilize the situation on the ground.”

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vahan Hunanyan said later on Friday that it was still in February 2021 that the Armenian side put in writing and submitted to the top Russian leadership its concerns about the activities of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh in order to raise their efficiency and avoid problems in the future.

The exchange between the Armenian and Russian officials gave rise to speculations about growing differences between Yerevan and Moscow regarding the matter.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry has not yet disclosed details of the 2021 document that it says was submitted to Russia.

“I suppose the two countries’ foreign ministries will meet to talk it over and will come to an understanding,” Civil Contract’s Khachatryan said.

“I don’t think that the Foreign Ministry should publish the contents of every document. What was said is as much as could be said,” he added.

Meanwhile, a phone call between Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported on Monday.

The Armenian prime minister’s office did not specifically mention the issue of peacekeepers as being discussed by the two leaders. It only said that “issues related to the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as ensuring security on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border were discussed.”

“In this context, the importance of the full implementation of all the agreements of the leaders of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan of November 9, 2020, January 11, and November 26, 2021 was reaffirmed,” the brief statement said.

Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service last week, political analyst Tatul Hakobyan, referring to Pashinyan’s statements made during a cabinet meeting on August 4, described the language used by the Armenian side as “primitive blackmail.” But blackmail, he warned, is far from being the best tool in dealing with Russia. ”We want to get rid of one thing, but have nothing to replace it with,” he said.

Gegham Manukyan, a member of the opposition Hayastan parliamentary faction, said it was not clear to him how the Armenian side sees the way of raising the effectiveness of the Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. But he outlined his faction’s vision for that. ”We should first discuss the issue of raising the number of Russian peacekeepers [deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh]. Secondly, we should reconsider the way the Russian force is deployed in separate directions. The Armenian side’s initiative of mirrored withdrawals, even if implemented, should be done in conditions of full control so as to avoid situations similar to what happened in the village of Parukh [in March] and in the northwestern part of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh – ed.] in recent days.”

Manukyan would not comment on Pashinyan’s statement regarding the possibility of considering “additional international mechanisms” if solutions within the Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani format fail. He said that the statement was not clearly formulated and could be just a “word game,” while there is no official information to suggest this is a realistic plan.

A multinational international peacekeeping operation was discussed as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process before the 2020 war. But after Russia brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan to put an end to six weeks of bloodshed in the conflict zone, the other two Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs – the United States and France – welcomed Moscow’s peacekeeping operation, although US President Donald Trump talked about the possibility of deploying ‘Scandinavian peacekeepers’ in the region during the war itself.

Swedish journalists recently revealed that one week before the Moscow-brokered ceasefire was signed, on November 2, 2020, the US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Andrew Schofer, discussed such a possibility with Swedish officials. Although, according to the media investigation, that proposal was rejected by Stockholm.

In the wake of the recent escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a small group of Armenians displaced from the region by the 2020 war and its consequences picketed the Russian embassy in Yerevan demanding that Russian peacekeepers “properly carry out” their mission. They also staged rallies in front of the embassies of France and the United States as well as the United Nations office in Yerevan, calling for an international peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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