Kremlin forces residents of Karabakh to refuse food and humanitarian aid

The Kremlin aims at freezing the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Karabakh according to the scenario of the Ukrainian Donbas, Georgian South Ossetia and Moldovan Transnistria.

That is the only way it will be able to maintain its positions, including its military presence in the South Caucasus and Eastern Europe.

For instance, after the statement of the EU representatives about the opening of an additional road for the delivery of humanitarian goods to the Armenian enclave of the Azerbaijani Karabakh, pro-Russian separatists blocked this route.

Just as in the case of other post-Soviet countries that Russia is trying to control through separatist enclaves, the real mediator in the negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the EU and the US. The conclusion of a peace agreement will deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of positions in the South Caucasus and will contribute to the definitive reorientation of Yerevan to the West.

The offer of help while held at gunpoint by Russian ‘peacekeepers’

On July 15, following a meeting with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Brussels, the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, announced Baku’s intention to establish humanitarian supplies through the city of Agdam to the Armenian enclave of Azerbaijani Karabakh.

Since the restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh in autumn 2020, the connection between the Armenian enclave and Armenia has been carried out along the Lachin road, controlled by the Russian military contingent.This highway leads to the administrative centre of the enclave, the city of Khankendi, which Armenians call Stepanakert. Despite the free movement of transport and humanitarian cargo along this route, the separatist leadership has been claiming since December 2022 that “there is famine and a humanitarian catastrophe in Artsakh”.

In response to Michel’s statement about Azerbaijan’s readiness to open an additional route for humanitarian cargo, on July 18, representatives of the pro-Russian movement “Artsakh Security and Development Front” blocked the road through Agdam to Khankendi with concrete blocks. In conditions of real hunger, a situation when the “victim” refuses food and blocks the road just because help comes along a route that they don’t like, is unthinkable.

For the separatist leadership in Khankendi, it is fundamental to use the Lachin road, which is controlled by the military contingent of the Russian Federation. According to Baku’s official data, this road is used for”the rotation of army personnel, the transfer of weapons and ammunition, the infiltration of terrorists”.

The investigation carried out by the Ukrainian MP Vladimir Kreydenko became a clear demonstration of the absence of hunger in the Armenian enclave.

He organized the order of meat and fish dishes, cheeses, cakes for several corporate parties in Khankendi and did not receive a single refusal.

“Not only is there no “blockade, but also no “famine,”  in the Karabakh region,  no matter how strongly the propaganda of the pro-Kremlin regime claims to the contrary,”an analytical review of the major Bulgarian publication Fakti stated back in February.

Already at the end of June, the deputy of the ruling party of Armenia, Shirak Torosyan, also admitted this: “There is no hunger in Artsakh, there is no need to exaggerate”.

Apparently, the situation in Khankendi was and still is far from critical.

Russian billionaire – the commander of pro-Kremlin separatists

The analytics of European and American observers repeatedly speak of the existence of a “pro-Kremlin regime” in Karabakh. After all, the blocking of the Aghdam-Khankendi road was organized by the Artsakh Security and Development Front and the former head of Artsakh, Ruben Vardanyan, who is often referred to in the media as Putin’s emissary in the South Caucasus .

In April 2023, at the initiative of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vardanyan was included in the database of accomplices of Russian aggression – “Myrotvorets“.

According to the Canadian analytical publication Geopolitical Monitor,”the Kremlin sent Vardanyan to Karabakh because it was afraid of the EU’s success in concluding a peace treaty” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Destabilize to influence

The fact that Moscow is striving to destabilize the South Caucasus, as it previously did in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, is widely reported by international media.

The Washington Times: “Russia’s regime is manipulating the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh to stir ethnic conflicts in the South Caucasus  … The scenario is reminiscent of other disputes that the Kremlin has manufactured, whether in Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine, to maintain its sphere of imperial influence.

In Ukraine, the largest news site Censor explained that “Putin is using Armenian separatist puppets in Karabakh for his own purposes, just as he did with Ossetians and Abkhazians in Georgia and supporters of the Russian World in Crimea and Donbas.”

“This [use of Armenian separatists in Karabakh] allows Moscow to maintain a military presence in the South Caucasus, as well as in the breakaway region of South Ossetia from Georgia or in the Russian-controlled eastern regions of Moldova,” RomanianNewsweek reported.

Russian passports for the fans of the Kremlin

Such a policy of the Kremlin has led Armenian separatists in Karabakh to favor the indefinite presence of the Russian military contingent here, and wish to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

“As eight years ago in Crimea, a referendum should be held in Artsakh on one of the issues on the agenda, which concerns joining Russia”Artashes Geghamyan, the former head of the delegation of the National Assembly of Armenia to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said in March 2022.

Then, in April 2022, a campaign was held in Karabakh to collect signatures in support of joining Russia. Its culmination was the appeal of the Armenian reserve colonel Hayk Nahapetyan to apply to the Russian embassy for citizenship: “In this way, we have an unrecognized, but quite real territory inhabited by citizens of the Russian Federation. So Russia is given not only the moral, but also the legal right to interfere in the process.”

Moscow against the peace between Baku and Yerevan

According to the trilateral statement of the heads of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia dated November 9 2020, if in May 2025 none of the parties demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Karabakh, their stay will be extended for another five years.  The closer May 2025 is getting, the greater the Kremlin’s interest is becoming in increasing pressure on its proxies in Karabakh and preventing a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan.

Unlike Moscow, which positions itself as the “main mediator” in the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement, but does everything to freeze it, the European Union has every interest in achieving peace in the South Caucasus.

First and foremost, this is due to the opening of regional transport routes, especially the Zangezur corridor.

“With its opening, the European Union will obtain a direct transport route to China, bypassing Russia – through Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia,” the main Moldovan TV channel Moldova-1 noted on the eve of the summit of the European Political Community, held in Chisinau on June 1.

“Azerbaijan has the potential to become a key EU energy partner that can help offset the loss of Russian fossil fuels,”a Czech partner at US CNN reported at the time.

The interception of the initiative by the European Union and the United States in the negotiation process between Baku and Yerevan, with the subsequent achievement of real success, will deprive Putin of positions in the South Caucasus.

This will also contribute to the final reorientation of Armenia towards the West. In turn, the speedy integration of the Armenians of Karabakh into Azerbaijan will block the possibility for the Kremlin to manipulate them for its own geopolitical purposes.

(Photo, from 2020:

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.