(Yerevan) Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday he complained to Vladimir Putin about “problems” with the Russian peacekeeping force failing to stem rising tensions with Azerbaijan.
These tensions in the Caucasus, where Yerevan and Baku are notably vying for control of the Nagorny Karabakh region, represent a test for the regional influence of Russia, mired in its invasion of Ukraine.
If the Russian president sponsored the agreement which made it possible to stop a war in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, his peacekeeping force in Karabakh seems powerless in the face of the clashes which multiply.
In a telephone interview on Monday, “I spoke to (Mr. Putin) about the danger of a possible escalation in Nagorny Karabakh, I think there are problems in the area of responsibility of the peacekeeping force. the peace of Russia,” Pashinian said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Citing the recent deaths of Armenian policemen in clashes with Azerbaijan, he added: “I want to emphasize that this happened in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping force. This concerns us and I expressed this concern during my interview with Putin”.
Strongly criticized for weeks by Yerevan, which accuses it of passivity, the Russian army said on Monday that it had stopped an exchange of fire between the belligerents on Sunday that killed five people.
A mountainous region mainly populated by Armenians and having seceded from Azerbaijan at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorny Karabakh continues to poison relations between Yerevan and Baku.
Azerbaijan and Armenian separatist forces, supported militarily by Yerevan, clashed in two wars for its control, one at the breakup of the USSR, which left 30,000 dead, the other in the fall 2020, which left 6,500 dead.
Despite the presence of Russian military personnel, clashes in Karabakh and on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border remain frequent and threaten to derail the fragile truce reached after the 2020 war.
And Russia seems to struggle to exert its influence on the belligerents, now that its resources are concentrated on its invasion of Ukraine.
Beyond that, it is the influence of Moscow on the whole of the Caucasus, once considered its backyard, which is called into question, for many observers.
The massive demonstrations that rocked neighboring Georgia last week were largely directed against the Kremlin, with protesters fearing a return of their country to Russian orbit.
“Today there is a very high probability of escalation along the Armenian border and in Nagorny Karabakh […] With each passing day, Azerbaijan’s rhetoric becomes more aggressive,” Pashinyan said on Tuesday. .
In addition to the clashes, Armenia also denounces the blocking since mid-December of an essential road for the supply of an Armenian enclave in Nagorny Karabakh by Azerbaijanis posing as environmental activists, accusing Baku of wanting to carry out a ” ethnic cleansing”.
“If you consider the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the humanitarian disaster in Nagorny Karabakh and the fact that Azerbaijan is obviously preparing to commit ethnic cleansing, then I think it is necessary […] to send international observers,” Pashinian said.
Baku denies any blockade in Nagorny Karabakh and blames the tensions on Yerevan.
Pashinyan’s statements coincide with a visit to Berlin by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev who is to be received by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday as Europe seeks to mediate the delicate peace process between Yerevan and Baku.
Pointing to recent “progress” in the peace talks, Mr. Pashinian nonetheless pointed to “fundamental problems” impeding progress.
“We see that Azerbaijan is trying to sign a peace treaty with territorial claims […] which, of course, is a red line for Armenia,” he said.