Most of the news about Caucasus today is centred on the so-called “blockade” of an unrecognised separatist enclave on Azerbaijani territory. Strangely enough, only one side of the story is being sounded – not the Azeri one. The owners of the land who wish to stop the theft of the natural resources belonging to them are stifled by the separatists, ruled by Putin’s henchmen of the highest level. Azerbaijani NGOs and eco-activists’ protest against the embezzlement is described by the ignorant media as “strangling blockade of the peaceful population”.
Let’s put things in order:
The enclave in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan is an Azeri land, captured by Armenians 30 years ago and liberated in 2020. The only area which is not controlled by Azerbaijan is an enclave – the unrecognised republic “Artsakh”, controlled by the Russian military units pretending to be “peacekeepers”.
For 30 years Damirli copper and molybdenum deposits and the Gizilbulag gold deposits in this enclave were plundered by the occupiers.
For many years, Azerbaijan has been trying to draw the attention of the world to this robbery, which was carried out with a gross violation of environmental standards and subsoil use.
On October 21, 2015 and March 30, 2018 criminal proceedings were instituted by the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan under Articles 192.2.3 (illegal entrepreneurship) and 318.2 (illegal crossing of the state border) of the Criminal Code with regard to illegal entrepreneurial activity of foreign citizens of Armenian origin in the occupied territories of Lachin, Kalbajar districts, and other occupied regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
But who was really controlling the stolen mines? According to the Armenian journalist Roman Bagdasaryan, over 185 million dollars were invested into the development of the mines by the Russian oligarch and a government official Igor Sechin (pictured), considered a close ally and “de facto deputy” of Vladimir Putin.
Bagdasaryan claims that Sechin was behind a decision to send one of the wealthiest Russian oligarchs, the “Putin’s wallet” – Ruben Vardanyan, to take control over the enclave and mines. Today he sits in the main enclave city of Khankendi, while Russian military units do his bidding, controlling the “borders” of “Artsakh”
Vardanyan was allegedly engaged in money laundering through offshore companies and transferring money to the most influential people from Putin’s entourage (for example, Sergei Roldugin). During the same period, he held positions in the “expert councils” under the President and the Government of the Russian Federation, positions accessible only to people who are close to Putin. At the same time, Vardanyan also ran the investment bank Troika Dialog, which became part of Sberbank of the Russian Federation in 2011. Only in March 2019 members of European Parliament demanded an investigation into the activities of Vardanyan as the head of Troika Dialog.
The name of Vardanyan and his Troika Dialog surfaced again in connection with the topic of offshore companies: the Organized Crime and Corruption Investigation Center (OCCRP) convincingly proved that Troika Dialog had created an extensive network of offshore companies. These companies worked with other companies accused of laundering, cashing out or illegally withdrawing funds from Russia. We are talking about 4.6 billion dollars passed through 76 companies.
Bagasaryan adds that Vardanyan’ who “surrendered” his Russian citizenship in October 2022 to escape western sanctions, received a gift from Sechin – a development project near Moscow.
This robbery is confirmed by Iranian sources: “Azerbaijan is seeking to return the gold mines in Karabakh, as there is $20 billion worth of gold in the region, now mined by a Russian company”, claims Iranian ISNA agency.
So this is the real reason for the crisis and “blockade”. As Georgian political expert Gela Vasadze notes, Russia, which tries to appear as a “peacekeeper”, is actually the main source of the problem. “Moscow fights for its own interests”, he notes, stressing that the unrecognised enclave’s “head” Vardanyan is just a Kremlin’s instrument.
Putin and Sechin are interested not only in gold. They need this region – one of the major alternative sources of energy resources for the EU to stay unstable. As long is the conflict is flaming, Moscow can continue to manipulate Armenians and try to provoke Azerbaijan, claims Israeli analyst David Aidelman.
Why Vardanyan claims that Azerbaijani NGO’s protests are a “blockade”, causing “humanitarian catastrophe”? Because it keeps the crisis alive. Is there a blockade?
“Every day, cars of Russian peacekeepers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and ambulances pass freely along the Lachin road. This once again proves that the road is not blocked. Even the Armenian media publish news that cars move freely on the road”, reported RFE RL.
“The Kremlin’s parachuting of Vardanyan into Karabakh was because of the Kremlin’s fear of the EU’s success in brokering a peace treaty that would have been signed by the end of the year. The peace treaty was being negotiated by Armenia and Azerbaijan”, – explains professor Taras Kuzio.
“The EU brokered talks, and US mediated ministerial meetings showed a path to a peace treaty that would have recognised Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh. This would have removed the need for Russia’s so-called ‘peacekeepers’ with Azerbaijan not renewing their mandate in 2025. … There would be no agreement on Karabakh because leaving it unsettled guaranteed Russia’s continued interference in the South Caucasus”, he adds.
“What can be done therefore is in the hands of western powers. It is in the interests of the United States to reduce Russia’s malign hold over every country the world over. It is in Britain’s interests to see peace between these two Caucasian nations that could boost its extensive energy investment interests in Azerbaijan through expansion into Armenia. It is in the European Union’s interest to have peace between countries near its border.
All three therefore should consider slapping sanctions on Ruben Vardanyan, a disgrace he has so far avoided, despite being a Kremlin-made man”, – claims American analyst Wes Martin.
To his mind “Artsakh” is Vardanyan’s stepping-stone to take charge in Armenia – because in recent decades they have opened the doors to just this political segue twice before. Two prime ministers (both later presidents) of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, were first state ministers and then presidents of “Artsakh” – building their political careers in the imposter-republic before Russian facilitated entry into leadership in the Armenian capital Yerevan.
As the Versiya newspaper noted in September 2022, “Ruben Vardanyan Pictured) claims to be the new national leader of Armenia, and in the future he may even become president.”
In October 2022, the Armenian newspaper Hraparak wrote: “Vardanyan wants to actively participate in the Armenian political processes in the near future, not just in the next parliamentary elections, but also as a candidate for Prime Minister’s post.
This is Moscow’s official plan, which is sponsored by the Russian Federation. Vardanyan is being promoted as a successor to the current government of the Republic of Armenia.”
Main image: Stepanakert airport, By Marcelko89 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29697570