"If Vardanyan were Russian puppet, the road would be open" - Thomas de Waal
Turan news interview with Thomas de Waal
In an interview with Azerbaijani news agency Turan, British expert Thomas de Waal noted that Azerbaijan has achieved 90% of everything it wanted before the 2020 war. “Undoubtedly, there are some behind-the-scenes negotiations between Moscow and Baku,” he said, talking about the situation on the Lachin road. Regarding claims that Ruben Vardyan is a Russian puppet, de Waal said: “If Vardanyan were a project of Russia, the road would be open.”
- “We have no intention of starting a third war” – Ilham Aliyev
- Yerevan and Baku far from agreement: latest statements by Pashinyan and Aliyev
- “It’s obvious Saakashvili is being tortured and Putin is behind it” – author of the “Magnitsky law”
A few days after an interview with the Armenian Radio Azatutyun (Freedom), British expert and researcher on the Caucasus Thomas de Waal answered questions from Turan.
“Pashinyan is not the most diplomatic leader”
“Nikol Pashinyan’s speech was a continuation of his thoughts regarding the CSTO and Russia as a whole. Pashinyan himself is not the most diplomatic leader, and he speaks openly about what he thinks. One could feel his resentment towards Russia, inasmuch as Russia is an unreliable partner, both militarily and politically.”
De Waal recalled that while still an opposition politician, Nikol Pashinyan opposed Armenia‘s membership in the EAEU and the CSTO. “And these speeches are a continuation of his personal policy,” he noted.
“He understands that Russia is now a forced ally for Armenia, and he would like to have wider relations with France, European countries, and the United States. But the reality is different. Russia is practically the only country that ensures the security of Armenia and currently the part of Karabakh where the Armenian population lives,” de Waal maintained.
“There is no need to talk about peace in the short term”
Thomas de Waal shared his thoughts on the topic of inviting peacekeepers with an international mandate to the region.
“The prospect of inviting international peacekeepers is now being widely discussed in the expert community, because it is clear that there is no need to talk about any peace in the short term between Azerbaijan and Armenia. And in 2025, Russian peacekeepers’ mission in Karabakh ends,” he said.
“So it is necessary to continue the peacekeeping mission in some form. But after the war in Ukraine, no one is satisfied with Russia. Trust in Russia is very low, both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. A little higher, maybe in Karabakh itself, but I think that after the events of the last month the level of trust in Karabakh is also declining.
The question arises: can this mission be replaced by an international one that will enjoy more confidence on both sides? The question is whether the two main players, Azerbaijan and Russia, will accept this idea. The answer is currently negative,” de Waal said.
“Unfortunately, the dialogue did not work”
Answering a question about a possible agreement between Yerevan and Khankendi (Stepanakert) on the issue of the status of the part of Karabakh where the Armenian population lives, de Waal said that he does not believe it:
“I don’t think that Yerevan’s soft stance on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the tougher one on the part of Khankendi is the result of a mutual agreement between these parties. We are dealing with two different positions on the same issue.
The Karabakh Armenians have wanted to secede from Azerbaijan since the ’80s, and nothing has changed in their position. This has always been the case. Another thing is that reality has changed after 2020. Yerevan, of course, understands this better.
The trouble is that if there were a softer approach to the Karabakh Armenians, it would be possible to start a dialogue with them. I hoped that after the war there would be an opportunity for Baku and the Karabakh Armenians to agree on the future of this region.
You can’t change geography. This region is located within the territory of Azerbaijan. On the other hand, you can’t change history. The conflict has been going on there since the beginning of the twentieth century. There are beliefs that cannot be changed immediately.
Unfortunately, the dialogue did not work. Baku offers practically nothing to the Armenians of Karabakh. And accordingly, the Armenians of Karabakh keep their maximalist position.”
“Abnormal attitude towards the citizens of their country”
The British researcher of the Caucasus Thomas de Waal also expressed his opinion about the official statements about the fact that the Karabakh Armenians are citizens of Azerbaijan.
“Yes, Azerbaijan has made statements that these people are our citizens. But what we have been seeing for the last month is, to put it mildly, an abnormal attitude towards the citizens of our country. When people are deprived of the opportunity to move, get food, medicine. I think there are few people who believe these statements of the Azerbaijani government.
These statements are more aimed at an external audience. Everyone is well aware that the main goal of Baku is the complete subjugation of the Karabakh Armenians. There is talk that Baku would like to see Karabakh without Armenians. I think many people understand this.
Indeed, there was hope that a new chapter of relations between Baku and the Karabakh Armenians could be started, which is the root of the whole conflict.
Azerbaijan achieved 90% of everything it wanted before the 2020 war. This is the liberation of a huge territory that was under Armenian occupation, and there was an opportunity to open communications, which is beneficial to Armenia, Azerbaijan and many other countries.
I think it would be possible to postpone the issue of the Karabakh Armenians and make progress on other issues.
To my great regret, due to the issue of the status of the Karabakh Armenians, all other larger issues, such as the opening of roads and the reconstruction of the liberated territories, have faded into the background,” de Waal noted.
Turan news interview with Thomas de Waal
“If Vardanyan were a Russian puppet, the road would be open”
“After the end of the war, there were contacts between the Azerbaijani authorities and such people in Karabakh as Vitaly Balasanyan, who recently resigned. But I do not think that these contacts had any social basis. They were behind-the-scenes contacts, it is not clear what exactly. There were doubts on the Armenian side that this was an attempt to bribe officials from Stepanakert. And of course, there were negotiations of a commercial nature about mines and deposits.
As for Ruben Vardanyan, I do not agree with the allegations that he is a Russian puppet. If he were, the road would be open. The closure of the road and the fact that Russia does not actively demand its unblocking undermines the credibility of Vardanyan. If it had been a Kremlin project, this would not have happened.
Vardanyan has extensive relations in Britain and America. Yes, he went there with the consent of Russia, but I think he has his own agenda. It is difficult to guess what the agenda is, but it cannot be ruled out that Vardanyan sees Karabakh as a political platform for his ambitions already in Yerevan, in the political arena of Armenia itself.
As for the fact that Vardanyan’s coming to power in Karabakh spoiled Baku’s plans for possible agreements with the elite of Karabakh Armenians, this, of course, takes place,” de Waal answered a question about potential contacts between Baku and Khankendi.
“Why is Russia inert regarding the Lachin road?”
De Waal believes that because of the current situation on the Lachin road, where a protest by Azeri activists has been going on for one month, there are “some kind of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Moscow and Baku”:
“Azerbaijan has a demand to change the regime of the Lachin road. There are claims that the regime there is not transparent, it is not clear what and who is driving along this road. But of course, these are not all Baku’s demands regarding the current situation.
Why is Russia inactive? There are very different theories, and I, as a person from the outside, will only say that Moscow, as always, maneuvers between Yerevan and Baku. The closure of the road is to some extent a lever of pressure on Yerevan, on Pashinyan.
And Russia’s position is much weaker than a year ago. This is because of the war in Ukraine. So Russia is being very cautious about Azerbaijan, which is a very important neighbor and a road to the south during a crisis.
Russia does not want to irritate Azerbaijan too much. Most likely, there are behind-the-scenes negotiations. Russia will intervene only when it can show itself as a peacemaker, a mediator. But that moment has not yet come.”
Aliyev wants to use this moment
“Speaking of yesterday’s statements by Ilham Aliyev, I would like to return to 2022. Aliyev last year wanted an agreement on the opening of the road to Nakhichevan, an agreement on the delimitation of borders, as a result of which the Azerbaijani enclaves would return, and the signing of a peace treaty with Armenia. Despite fairly serious meetings and negotiations, and military pressure on Yerevan, nothing happened.
Aliyev again asserted Armenia that is weaker, his patience is not eternal, and if necessary he can use force.
I think there is a time factor here. Saying that 2023 is the last chance for Armenia, Aliyev believes that the current moment is quite suitable for Azerbaijan. Russia is busy with the war in Ukraine while Erdogan is in power in Turkey. It is not known how relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey will change if power changes in Ankara this summer. Meanwhile, the EU sees Azerbaijan as a reliable energy partner.
We don’t know what will happen in a year. Aliyev wants to use this moment. He believes that Armenia is dragging it out, and maybe he is right about that. Armenia may also think that in a year their position will be more advantageous.
But the parties must understand that only through serious negotiations can something serious be achieved. Armenia can block the opening of the road to Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan can close the Lachin road. And no one actually gains anything from this.
There is a lot of talk in Azerbaijani circles that, in fact, Armenia is not such a big issue for Baku. It is more important to build the right relations with Russia and Iran. I also believe that if Azerbaijan and Armenia reached serious agreements, opened regional communications, if Armenia opened the borders with Turkey and instantly weakened the role of Russia in this country, then Azerbaijan could switch its strategic resources to solving more important topics for itself,” de Waal concluded.
Turan news interview with Thomas de Waal