The Deputy Head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Interview — The Erevan and Baku conflict remains unresolved

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin told RBC about the progress in resolving the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the relationship between Moscow and Yerevan, and the future of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the region.

“The mission of the Russian peacekeeping contingent remains more than relevant.”

— Can it be said that after Azerbaijan’s operation on September 19 and the subsequent decision by the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to dissolve itself, the conflict between Baku and Yerevan over Nagorno-Karabakh has been resolved?

— First of all, I would like to say that the cessation of hostilities on September 20 was achieved with the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, which is deployed in Karabakh in accordance with trilateral agreements of the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Thus, Russia continued to play its crucial stabilizing role in the South Caucasus. After the end of hostilities on September 20, the Russian peacekeeping contingent played a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance to the residents of Karabakh, including food supply, medical assistance, and the evacuation of more than a hundred people injured in a gas station explosion in one of the areas of Karabakh. Therefore, the current situation, where no hostilities are observed, is largely the merit of Russia and its peacekeeping contingent.

However, I believe that the conflict has not yet been fully resolved. The set of trilateral agreements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia remains relevant. It includes reaching agreements on such essential components as unlocking transportation and economic ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan, delimitation of the border with its subsequent demarcation, signing a peace treaty, and establishing contacts between public figures, expert communities, and parliaments of Azerbaijan and Armenia. All of this collectively should lead to mutually acceptable conditions for normalization, which will be documented in a future treaty. As an honest mediator with partnership relations with both countries, Russia will strive to ensure that balanced agreements are reached between our two neighbors.

— There’s a significant exodus of Karabakh Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh — already more than 100,000 people have left the territory. The mandate of Russian peacekeepers expires in 2025. What will their mission consist of — what will they be doing there?

— The situation on the ground is quite fluid. Many residents of Karabakh have made the difficult decision to leave. But at the same time, I believe that the mission of the Russian peacekeeping contingent remains more than relevant. The Russian peacekeepers played a significant role, firstly, in achieving the ceasefire on September 20 and assisting the residents of Karabakh before their massive departure. Our military escorted evacuation convoys, ensuring order and safety. Unfortunately, six of our servicemen died in the line of duty. We deeply mourn this.

Moreover, contacts between representatives of Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijani authorities are also conducted with the participation of representatives of the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. And a complex array of issues related to further arrangements in Karabakh is also being addressed between representatives of Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijani Republic authorities with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers.

The role of our contingent is in demand, and I believe it will also be needed in the future. Firstly, there remains the question of ensuring the peace of mind for those residents of Karabakh who have stayed. It cannot be ruled out that some of those who have left Karabakh may decide to return at some stage. And the presence of peacekeepers will be an additional factor of reassurance for these people. So, I would not say that the mission of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh has been exhausted. The modalities of the further stay of this contingent will be discussed and decided upon between Moscow and Baku through established channels.

“To accuse us of not fulfilling something is quite strange.”

— In recent months, the rhetoric between Moscow and Yerevan has become very heated. In late September, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Yerevan is “deliberately trying to undermine the multifaceted and centuries-old ties between Armenia and Russia, making the country a pawn in the geopolitical games of the West.” Besides the claims of the Armenian leadership towards Moscow, what grounds are there to make such statements?

— First and foremost, I would like to emphasize that the Russian side has always been and remains committed to its alliance and strategic partnership with Armenia and to the existing agreements. We proceed from the need to maintain and strengthen those very centuries-old close ties between the Russian and Armenian peoples, which have contributed a lot to both peoples and both countries for their development. It is all the more unpleasant to see steps from official Yerevan that, in our view, are clearly driven by a logic opposite to what I tried to convey to you. There is an escalation of anti-Russian rhetoric in statements by Armenian officials and a ramping up of an unfriendly information campaign in the Armenian media. All this is built on an utterly baseless narrative that Russia did not help Armenia, that Russia did not protect the Armenian population of Karabakh.

This is such an overt propagandistic rhetoric, but one must see the underlying reasons and origins of the events that occurred on September 19-20. On November 9, 2020, a trilateral statement was signed by the leaders, defining the modalities for moving towards a peaceful settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and approaches, among other things, to solving the Karabakh problem. Alongside the normalization tracks I mentioned above, there was also a gentleman’s agreement that the status of Karabakh would be determined in the future. Everyone proceeded from this. But almost a year ago, significant changes occurred in this scenario. In October 2022, at the Armenia-Azerbaijan summit under the auspices of the European Union, Nikol Pashinyan recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the belonging of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The effectiveness of the Almaty Declaration of December 1991 was confirmed, which defined the border between the new independent states that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union within the borders between the republics during the USSR era. The Armenian leadership recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and reaffirmed this recognition in May 2023 at another similar event: Armenia-Azerbaijan-European Union. This drastically changed the conditions under which the joint statement of November 2020 was signed and the situation surrounding the Russian peacekeeping contingent. This was a 180-degree turnaround of the official Yerevan’s position. Because the current Armenian leadership, upon coming to power a few years ago, officially stated that Artsakh, as they call Karabakh, is Armenia.

Moreover, at the stage when the Armenian leadership recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, not a word was said about the rights and security of the Karabakh Armenians. In the relevant documents published by the European Union, nothing is mentioned about this. The situation changed radically, and to accuse us of not fulfilling something is quite strange. One should also remember that Russia and other CSTO members were ready to send a CSTO observer mission to Armenia, but unfortunately, we received a refusal from the senior Armenian leadership. Instead, an EU observer mission was called to Armenia, which played no stabilizing role.

— How do you assess the prospects of relations considering all the above?

— As for Russian-Armenian relations, we have always assumed that at the official level, we would address complex issues professionally, through diplomatic channels, without emotional outbursts in the media space. Unfortunately, from the Armenian side, we witnessed a buildup of public hostile rhetoric towards Russia. As a result, we were compelled to release the statement you mentioned on September 25. That is, we moved this debate into the public domain only after the escalation of anti-Russian rhetoric from official Yerevan started to reach a boiling point.

I don’t want to list all our arguments here that highlight the unfriendly behavior of official Yerevan. But let me just remind you of actions such as holding Armenian-American military exercises while refusing training activities within the CSTO framework. And provocative steps like the visit of the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife to Kyiv and meetings with [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky, or the communication of Armenian parliament speaker Mr. [Alen] Simonyan with his Ukrainian counterpart [Ruslan] Stefanchuk. Lately, various European guests have frequented Yerevan, using it as a platform for various anti-Russian statements.

Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that Yerevan will adequately assess the importance of Russian-Armenian partnership. And they will primarily consider the robust centuries-old ties that unite the peoples of Russia and Armenia.

“We regard our ally Armenia’s accession to the Rome Statute as an utterly unfriendly step.”

— On October 3, the Armenian parliament ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Armenian side proposed a bilateral agreement to Russia, which Russia examined and then proposed its compromise. What was its essence? Are any consultations between Yerevan and Moscow planned on this matter?

— It’s clear to everyone that the ICC has nothing in common with justice in the authentic sense of the word. It’s a politicized, pro-Western entity that carries out commissioned tasks of criminally prosecuting figures who are inconvenient to the West. Some time ago, this court issued arrest warrants for representatives of the Russian leadership. Let me note, parenthetically, that these warrants are legally void. Against the backdrop of the ICC’s overtly politicized hostile stance towards Russia and its leaders, our ally Armenia decided to ratify this court’s statute. How should we perceive such a move? At the very least, as unfriendly.

We hoped that Armenia would refrain from taking this step. The very same rules of the ICC allow countries that, for some reason, aren’t signatories to the Rome Statute, to use the court’s services without ratifying the Rome Statute. Within this paradigm, I don’t see any possibility of taking Armenia’s proposal seriously.

— Why? After all, this bilateral document could have been a guarantee against the extradition of each other’s citizens. What’s wrong with this instrument and what could be the alternative?

— Let me emphasize again, you’re quoting the Armenian side’s proposal that in light of the absolutely illegal, unjust, and politicized actions of the ICC, manifested in the issuance of so-called warrants, we should find ways to protect ourselves from inherently unlawful decisions that we do not accept. That’s what this is about. In this context, we regard our ally Armenia’s accession to the Rome Statute against the backdrop of these mentioned warrants as an utterly unfriendly move. I don’t see room for dialogue here.

— So, no consultations on this matter are anticipated in the future?

— Consultations have taken place. We made certain proposals. But, it seems, either Yerevan is still contemplating them, or they’ve decided not to accept.

— What were the proposals? Not to ratify the statute?

— I believe there are matters in diplomacy that shouldn’t be immediately brought to the fore.

Armenia signed the Rome Statute in 1999, but for many years did not ratify it: in 2004, the Constitutional Court of the republic determined that the document contradicted the Armenian Constitution. Talks of ratification resurfaced at the end of 2022, following another flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Baku’s strikes on border areas. The government approved the bill on the ratification of the statute and appealed to the Constitutional Court, which on March 24, 2023, recognized that the document does indeed comply with the Fundamental Law.

On March 17, a few days before the Armenian Constitutional Court approved the ratification of the statute in parliament, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children’s Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova “in the context of the situation in Ukraine.” The Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry called this decision “null and void,” stressing that Moscow does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.

On October 3, the National Assembly of Armenia (a unicameral parliament) ratified the Rome Statute. The press secretary of the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, called it an “improper decision” and stated that Moscow and Yerevan will have “serious discussions on this matter.”

“Russia’s special allied relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan define its unique role.”

— You mentioned the CSTO. In September 2022, there was another border crisis between Azerbaijan and Armenia when the sides exchanged strikes and there were hits on Armenian territory. Yerevan demanded that CSTO allies condemn these actions. Why didn’t this happen?

— I believe you’ve repeatedly seen in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statements plenty of words about our disapproval of violations of the trilateral agreements that occurred in the past. So, I would venture to correct you here. In the sense that we do not at all endorse violations of the trilateral statement from November 2020, no matter from which side they occur. Secondly, regarding the topic that you referred to as Azerbaijan’s occupation of certain regions of Armenia…

— This is what happened both in May 2021 and in September 2022 when the strikes affected Armenian cities Vardenis and Jermuk. It’s hard to say who started this shootout — the sides blame each other, but it was recorded that the strikes from the Azerbaijani side were specifically on Armenian territory.

— And everything you just said underscores the point that the parties should have initially fulfilled what they agreed upon in November 2020. Namely, to delimit and demarcate the borders. Then it would be clear who struck where and who occupied what correctly or incorrectly. As for the CSTO, being true to their allied obligations, CSTO members were fully prepared to send an observer mission to Armenia, which, if deployed, would serve as a much stronger stabilizing factor in the context of Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement than the so-called European Union observer mission invited by official Yerevan to its territory, which, according to our fairly reliable data, is merely engaged in intelligence activities.

— Russia and Armenia are allies. On February 22, 2022, Russia signed a Declaration on Allied Relations with Azerbaijan. Isn’t there a deadlock situation where Moscow cannot fulfill its allied obligations to either side?

— I disagree with your logic fundamentally. The fact is that the presence of special allied relations of Russia with both Armenia and Azerbaijan largely determines Russia’s unique role as a responsible mediator. In the fall of 2020, when, with the central role of Russia and its President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a ceasefire was achieved, and then the modalities for peace settlement on a trilateral basis were developed, and in September of the current year, when, with the assistance of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, a cessation of hostilities was achieved, and negotiations were held between representatives of Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijani authorities on the modalities for further resolution of the situation. So, I don’t see any contradiction here. And we are, again, ready to continue our mediating role in full accordance with the trilateral agreements.

Map of the results of the 2020 agreement on the cessation of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.

— Are there any negotiations planned between the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities in Russia in the near future?

— The dialogue between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia on the entire range of issues of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict resolution has never ceased. We hope that such contacts will continue. We are considering the possibility of holding such discussions at the level of foreign ministers on October 12 of this year in Bishkek on the sidelines of the CIS summit events. The Azerbaijani side has already given its principal consent. And we hope that the Armenian side will also approach this issue responsibly and agree to participate in such negotiations.

“The European Union is more concerned with ousting Russia from the region than with resolution.”

— On October 5th, negotiations between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan were supposed to take place in Granada, Spain. According to media reports, one of the conditions of the Azerbaijani side is to involve Turkey in the contacts. How does Russia view the interaction format with Turkey’s participation?

— Firstly, it’s up to Armenia and Azerbaijan to decide in what format they find it more comfortable to conduct discussions. But even in your question, the answer is largely articulated. As we see, the European Union is less concerned with resolving the situation and more focused on pushing Russia out of the region. And I see this as part of a general Western strategy to achieve the unattainable — what they try to call the international isolation of Russia. This is one manifestation of such a course.

For many, many years, Russia has been making efforts to resolve this long-standing conflict. In the fall of 2020, we played a key role in shaping the trilateral agreements. All the tracks that were outlined in these agreements were adopted by both the EU and the US. But it was done as if Russia had no connection to them whatsoever. Then there were discussions on the so-called Brussels platform, where the Armenian leadership fundamentally changed its stance and recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, completely forgetting about the rights and security of the Karabakh Armenians. And instead of helping the resolution, the EU uses our groundwork for their own short-term interests, blaming Russia for all mortal sins in the context of the events on September 19th.

Today, they claim they are ready to offer a platform, but at the same time, they completely ignore the wishes of other participants. That is, the EU believes it can dictate to others who can participate and who cannot. This tactic is absolutely patronizing, colonial, and ignores the legitimate rights and interests of other participants in international communication. And as we know, these are equal sovereign states, because the principle of sovereign equality is enshrined in the UN Charter.

— Based on what you said, it’s clear that the tracks of resolution — the Russian and the Western — are not working in unison but are competing against each other. But recently, Politico reported that on the eve of Azerbaijan’s operation, there was a meeting in Istanbul between representatives of the EU, the US, and Russia. So, can the EU, the US, and Russia actually work together on this issue?

— They can. But with the understanding that the EU and the US will not hijack our achievements and present them as their own, but will align their actions with the modalities of the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement that have already been developed between the parties with the mediation of Russia. It’s precisely from this angle that we approach contacts with the EU and the US on this issue.

I disagree with you in suggesting that we’re talking about some form of competition. There are modalities for a peaceful settlement that were developed between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia in 2020 and in the subsequent two years. If the European Union and the US want to help implement these, then, of course, we won’t oppose it. However, if the aim is to capitalize on Russia’s groundwork and act without Russia, it’s evident that we can’t support such an approach.

— There have been statements suggesting that a peace agreement will be reached by the end of 2023. How realistic is this? Will it be a single agreement or a package of agreements? And if measured in percentages, how much of this agreement has already been settled?

— Diplomacy and mathematics don’t always go hand in hand, so I wouldn’t now talk about specific percentages or shares. The preparation and signing of a peace treaty are integral parts of the “roadmap” for the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which was devised by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. We have always been and remain ready to assist Azerbaijan and Armenia in developing this document on a mutually acceptable basis so that it genuinely ensures a stable, balanced, and long-term peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

We believe it’s crucial to clearly enshrine in the peace treaty the rights and security of the Armenian population of Karabakh. We have presented certain ideas to the parties on this matter. We hope that they will be in demand, as will our viewpoint that mechanisms are needed to support the further implementation of the signed peace treaty. Such a mechanism should not harm the sovereignty and independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Russia believes that it is preferable to resolve all problems through political and diplomatic means.”

— Regarding the unblocking of transport and economic links. Negotiations on this have been ongoing for three years at the level of deputy prime ministers. Are there any developments in this direction?

— On June 2nd of this year, when the latest meeting of the tripartite working group took place, the parties acknowledged significant progress in advancing the unblocking of transport communications. However, we believe that the unblocking of transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan, specifically the establishment of the Megri Route that would connect the main territory of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan…

— Are you referring to the Zangezur Corridor?

— It’s a railway through Armenian territory, so I allowed myself to use the name “Megri Route.” Yes, in Azerbaijan it’s called the Zangezur Corridor. Let’s say, to make this terminology acceptable for all, we are actively assisting our Azerbaijani and Armenian partners to reach an agreement. We believe that this agreement will be a very important factor in the overall stabilization in the South Caucasus. It will promote the economic development of all South Caucasus states because, in this case, Armenia will have the opportunity to become a transport and logistics hub, strengthening and expanding its transport links with both Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia. Azerbaijan will have the ability for uninterrupted rhythmic transport communication between the two parts of the country. And the overall stabilization in the South Caucasus will serve to strengthen the foundations of trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the future. So, we are determined to further promote these consultations within the framework of the tripartite working group.

— Many in Armenia now fear that after Nagorno-Karabakh there will be a new war—specifically for this corridor through the Syunik region. How justified are these fears? How can the contradictions between Baku and Yerevan be resolved?

The solution can only be achieved through continued negotiations and finding mutually acceptable solutions, theoretically speaking. Practically, we proceed from the assumption that the tripartite working group, led by deputy prime ministers from each side, should continue to convene and carry on discussions with representatives of all competent state structures from each side that are, in one way or another, related to the issues under discussion. And, of course, everything must be done within the framework of international law. But regarding your mentioned apprehension of potential military actions, Russia always believes that it’s preferable to resolve all problems through political and diplomatic means.

The Zangezur Corridor is a proposed transport route approximately 40 km long through the Syunik region of Armenia, which would provide a transportation link between the western regions of Azerbaijan and its exclave, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The opening of transport routes in the region was stipulated by the agreements that ended the second Karabakh war in November 2020. On October 5th, Elchin Amirbekov, a representative of the Azerbaijani president on special assignments, stated that Baku does not demand an extraterritorial status for this corridor but insists on Yerevan providing reliable security guarantees for movement on this section.

“We try not to monetize goodwill.”

— Many from the leadership of the unrecognized NKR were arrested, including Ruben Vardanyan. Does Moscow have a stance regarding Ruben Vardanyan specifically — is it prepared to take any action concerning this individual?

— In general terms, I can say that these are primarily citizens of Armenia or people who voluntarily renounced Russian citizenship. Therefore, these issues must be resolved primarily between Armenia, whose citizens they are, and the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan. I would also like to draw your attention to an important aspect that I haven’t touched upon. It’s the fact that at some point, official Yerevan began to state that it has no relation whatsoever to the fate of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and all related issues should be resolved within the framework of a dialogue between the representatives of the Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijani authorities. This, unfortunately, was the case, and I’d like to bring this to your attention.

— Many foreign countries — the U.S., European nations — have announced they will provide aid to Armenia in connection with the departure of the Karabakh Armenians. USAID will provide $11.5 million, other countries will assist through the International Committee of the Red Cross. Does Russia plan to offer assistance?

— Russia is already making significant efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Armenian refugees from Karabakh who relocated following a deeply emotional decision. Firstly, it was Russia that opened the way for humanitarian supplies to the Armenian population of Karabakh even before the events of September 19th. To date, about 200 tons of food and fuel have been provided to the Armenians of Karabakh by the Russian peacekeeping contingent.

An operational headquarters has been established in Armenia by Roscooperation, through which humanitarian needs are monitored and urgent humanitarian assistance is provided — about 3 tons have been delivered to Goris, and about 1.5 tons to Kapan. Approximately 10 tons of humanitarian goods, including baby food, essential items, and warm clothing, are on standby from Dr. Liza’s foundation and other relevant Russian organizations. We hope that this aid will be delivered soon.

Around 20 tons of humanitarian goods have been provided by the administration of the Volgograd region. The Russian business community is actively participating in aiding refugees from Karabakh. Starting from October 1st, JSC ‘Russian Railways’ provides free train transportation within Armenia specifically for this category of citizens. The ‘Rusal’ corporation is assisting in employment for these people. ‘Gazprom’ has taken on the provision of housing and payment of utility bills for 600 refugee families from Karabakh.

Of course, we won’t stop there, we’ll continue this assistance, and we’ll announce it when we’re ready. Responding to the first part of your question, I’d like to say that we don’t flaunt figures in dollars or any other currency. We try not to monetize goodwill.”

Who is Mikhail Galuzin?

Born in 1960 in Moscow. In 1983, he graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Countries at Lomonosov Moscow State University. He has been working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since that year. From 2001 to 2008, he served as Counsellor-Ambassador at the Russian Embassy in Japan, then for four years he worked at the central office where he first headed the Department of the Asia-Pacific Region countries and then the Third Department of Asia. From 2012 to 2018, he was the Russian Ambassador to Indonesia, concurrently accredited to Kiribati, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea. From 2018 to 2022, he served as the Russian Ambassador to Japan. He has been the Deputy Foreign Minister since 2022, overseeing relations with CIS countries.

P.S. Artatsolum: Essentially, Russia not only justifies Azerbaijan past incursion into the sovereign territory of Armenia, but also a possible near-future invasion by Azerbaijan, reasoning that Armenia refuses to consent to the opening of the Megri Corridor, citing the non-fulfillment of commitments signed in November 2020. These commitments were completely violated by both Azerbaijan and Russia, not to mention other agreements, such as the arms supply to Armenia for which Armenia pre-paid $400,000,000. Reminder: Russia does not deliver the weapons and has not refunded the money.

Tranaslated Artatsolum

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