Nagorno-Karabakh: Why did Putin wait for the fall of Chouchi to impose a ceasefire?



The Russian President hates popular revolts in the former USSR. Whether it is Belarus today, or Armenia in 2018. The Velvet Revolution brought Nikol Pachinian to power. However, the current Prime Minister dares to criticise the Eurasian Economic Union, built around Russia, and is not indifferent to the sirens of the European Union.

By Ian Hamel, special envoy in Nagorno-Karabakh

A behaviour that has not prompted Vladimir Putin to intervene urgently in the conflict between Azerbaijan – supported by Turkey, and Syrian and Libyan mercenaries – and Armenia. The master of the Kremlin imposed a ceasefire only after the fall of the strategic town of Chouchi in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A recent photo shows Nikol Pachinian, Prime Minister of Armenia, welcomed in Brussels by Charles Michel, President of the European Council. The press reports that at the meeting on 18 June 2020, bringing together the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries, “Armenia is starting to move from its chair”. This means that Yerevan was considering changing sides. Created in 2009, the Eastern Partnership aims to strengthen the political association and economic integration of six countries in Eastern Europe and Transcaucasia. Until now, the members of the Partnership have taken strong positions. On the one hand, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are making eyes at Brussels. On the other, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia were boasting of their agreement with Moscow. However, Nikol Pachinian, supported in the Armenian Parliament by the pro-Europeans, is now hesitant. Has he not already declared that his country should leave the Eurasian Economic Union, which brings together Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan? Before going back, however.

Does the former journalist of the Armenian Times (Haykakan Jamanak) have such a short memory that he forgets the setbacks of his Georgian neighbour, President Mikheïl Saakashvili, who was ousted from power for having taunted the Russian bear too much? Pro-American and pro-European, Mikheïl Saakachvili imagined that the West would come to the rescue of little Georgia if Russian tanks dared to cross the border. We know the rest. Vladimir Putin therefore has reasons to be wary of this free electron with a resolutely liberal economic programme. This could explain why he doesn’t rush to come to his rescue. Even if it means punishing all the Armenians. In 2018, they drove out of power former President Serge Sarkissian, a personal friend of the master of the Kremlin, and humiliated the Republican Party (less than 5% of the vote), an ardent defender of Russia since Armenia’s independence in 1991.

Pro-Russian presidents    

Nikol Pachinian, deputy since 2012, fierce opponent of the former Armenian power, authoritarian and corrupt, 45 years old, is not of the same generation as the former presidents. He did not militate like them in the Communist Party when Armenia was an integral part of the USSR. Nor is he a veteran of the bloody conflict that pitted Armenia against Azerbaijan between 1988 and 1994 (30,000 deaths) for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the predominantly Armenian-populated enclave within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. “The imperial and orthodox Russia that protects Armenia from Turkey and Azerbaijan is an old story, to which a generation that has studied in Europe is at best indifferent,” Bruno Cadène noted on France Culture last June.

The two former Armenian presidents, Robert Kotcharian and Serge Sarkissian, were both born in 1954 in Stepanakert, the “capital” of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The first, a former Communist Party official, was first Prime Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh from 1992 to 1994, then President of Nagorno-Karabakh from 1994 to 1997, before becoming Prime Minister of Armenia from 1997 to 1998, and finally President of the Republic of Armenia from 1998 to 2008. Shortly after the “revolution” in 2018, he was indicted and placed in detention for “overthrowing the constitutional order” for acts that go back to 2008, when he was President. Demonstrations repressed by the army then led to the death of ten people. “A recording of a telephone conversation, broadcast on YouTube, between the head of the National Security Service and the director of the Special Investigation Service reveals that the magistrate in charge of the case was ordered to detain Robert Kotcharian, “whether he wants to or not”. This order attests to the intervention of the executive power over the judiciary, in contradiction with the current Prime Minister’s speech on the independence of the judiciary”, deplores Mr Sévag Torossian, lawyer at the Paris bar, defender of the former president, and author of “Le Haut-Karabakh arménien, un État virtuel ?” (Ed. L’Harmattan, 2004).

Despite a collective security treaty  

Robert Kotcharian’s successor at the head of state, Serge Sarkissian, was also active in the communist youth of Stepanakert, becoming first secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh regional committee. He also served in the Soviet armed forces. Minister of Defence of Armenia from 1993 to 1995, then from 2000 to 2007, he became Prime Minister for one year before being elected President of the Republic from 2008 to 2018. Not being able to serve more than two successive terms, as in Russia, Serge Sarkissian became Prime Minister, imitating Vladimir Putin’s strategy to stay in power indefinitely. But after six days, demonstrations led Serge Sarkissian to resign. After the dissolution of Parliament, and new elections, Nikol Pachinian was elected to the post of Prime Minister.

Of course, there are of course other reasons why Russia has been reluctant to come to Armenia’s rescue. Even though Yerevan and Moscow are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a politico-military structure that also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But Nagorno-Karabakh, whose independence is not recognised by the international community, is not attached to Armenia. Russia has no obligation to come to its rescue. All the more so as it is only a small territory of 11,400 km2 (two French departments), with a population of only 150,000 inhabitants. The situation in Belarus worries the master of the Kremlin much more.

Despite everything, Turkey’s fanatic interventionism in the Caucasus cannot leave the Russian “empire” totally indifferent. How far will it let Recep Tayyip Erdogan show his muscles and walk on his flowerbeds? Putin and Erdogan cultivate the same detestation of the West. They dream of chasing Westerners out of as many parts of the world as possible. The Russian President can only rejoice to see Turkey divide NATO to such an extent. Despite everything, at some point or another, the bear will have to get its claws out to prove that it remains the real boss of the Caucasus. No doubt he will intervene when the territory of Armenia is really threatened. But if the Russian army (which has a base in Armenia) intervenes, what will be the price of this rescue? Isn’t Yerevan in danger of falling definitively under the control of Moscow? Farewell to the sweet dreams of independence and rapprochement with Brussels. Won’t Armenian public opinion then turn against Nikol Pachinian, the hero of the velvet revolution of 2018?