Russian Leader Says if Armenia Chooses “U.S. Option” Artsakh Would be Lost to Azerbaijan
President Vladimir Putin of Russia claimed on Thursday that Yerevan rejected his proposal that would have seen less Armenian territory ceded to Azerbaijan in Artsakh. In discussing the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks, the Russian leader said that if Yerevan chooses the Western-backed plan, Karabakh would revert back to Azerbaijani control.
During his annual presentation at the Valdai Discussion Club, which this year was anticipated and followed by many world capitals, Putin said the he had proposed Armenia cede five of seven districts under its control. However, he said, the Armenian government opted to “go its own way.”
“For many years we have been in a talks with the Armenian side and proposed to solve the Karabakh issue in the following way: Because Armenia controlled seven districts of Azerbaijan, we said let’s move toward normalization of relations [between Armenia and Azerbaijan],” Putin said in response to a question from political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan, News.am reported.
“There are two regions – Kelbajar and to the south, the [Lachin] corridor. These are large areas,” Putin said. “At a later time we can reach an agreement with Azerbaijan. Give up these five areas.”
Putin explained that the five districts in question were not populated, since people were expelled from those territories, adding that there was “not point” in keeping them.
“That would have been a good step toward the normalization of the situation in the region as a whole. But the Armenian leadership went its own way. This has led to the situation that has developed so far,” Putin stressed.
In his remarks, Putin did not specify which five regions he was referencing. In November 2020, Putin also claimed that in mid-October 2020, he had proposed a plan to Armenia that would have seen Shushi remain under Armenian control. However, he said, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected the plan for “fear of being called a traitor” by his own people.
The Russian president said in 2020 that weeks before the final agreement was signed, Armenia rejected a proposal whereby Shushi would remain under Armenian control but Azerbaijanis who were displaced after the liberation of the city in 1992 would be allowed to return and settle there. Putin added then that he did not understand why Pashinyan rejected the condition for the return of displaced persons to Shushi.
Putin also discussed the ongoing talks peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, ahead of meeting he has proposed to take place on Monday in Sochi between Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.
Speaking of the need for a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Putin said that Yerevan had a choice to make: to chose the Russian proposed option or the one that is being backed by the West—Washington—which would force Armenia to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and thus place Artsakh under Azerbaijani control.
“We are in favor of this [peace treaty],” Putin said at the Valdai Club. “The question of which option to choose is up to the Armenian people and the Armenian leadership. In any case, whatever option is chosen, if it leads to peace, we will be in favor of it.”
The Russian leader said that his country “cannot dictate anything to Armenia.”
He did add, however, that “the so-called Washington option, as far as I understand, envisions the recognition of the sovereignty of Azerbaijan over Karabakh in general.”
“If that is what Armenia thinks, then please, we will support whatever the Armenian people choose,” Putin said. “If the Armenian people and the Armenian leadership think that Karabakh has some importance and that such importance should be taken into consideration in a future peace agreement, this is also possible.”
“But of course it is necessary to reach an agreement with Azerbaijan. These agreements must also be acceptable to Azerbaijan. This is a complicated, difficult issue,” Putin explained, adding that Armenia is Russia’s strategic partner and ally “and of course, with Azerbaijan’s interests in mind, we will be guided by what Armenia itself offers.”
In speaking to reporters on Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel’s comments seem to give credence to Putin’s assessment of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks.
“The Secretary [of State Antony Blinken] has emphasized that the U.S. has communicated – is committed to Armenia‑Azerbaijan peace negotiations, and we have encouraged both leaders to meet in whatever format is most useful to them. Our viewpoint is that direct dialogue is key to resolving these issues and reaching a lasting peace,” Patel said.
“There is no greater supporter than the U.S. for the sovereignty and independence of the three countries in the South Caucasus, and the restoration of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia’s independence in 1991 when [from] the Soviet Union was a seminal event that guaranteed each of these countries the right to pursue their own foreign policy interests and sovereignty,” Patel added.