© Reuters. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the Eurasian Economic Union summit in Moscow, Russia May 25, 2023. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool vi
MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected a suggestion by Armenia’s prime minister that Russia had failed to protect Armenia in its standoff with neighbouring Azerbaijan and was winding down its role in the wider South Caucasus.
In an interview with the Italian paper La Repubblica published on Sunday, Nikol Pashinyan accused Russia of failing to ensure Armenia’s security against what he said was aggression from Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Yerevan has repeatedly complained that Russian peacekeepers have for nine months allowed Azerbaijanis to blockade the “Lachin corridor”, the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, causing shortages of food, medicines and other essentials.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and has sent peacekeepers to uphold a ceasefire deal, would continue to be a “guarantor of security” in the region.
Pashinyan had said Armenia felt Russia was pulling back from the South Caucasus, which includes Azerbaijan and Georgia. He also suggested that Moscow was unable to meet all Armenia’s security needs because of its own requirements for the war in Ukraine.
“We cannot agree with these [Pashinyan’s] theses,” Peskov said. “Russia is an absolutely integral part of this region … Russia plays a consistent, very important role in stabilising the situation in this region … and we will continue to play this role.”
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, in a separate briefing, called Pashinyan’s comments “public rhetoric verging on rudeness” and said that, rather than blaming others, Yerevan should take responsibility for its own actions.
She also said that Moscow wanted humanitarian aid to reach the enclave unhindered.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a source of tension between Yerevan and Baku for decades, is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but its 120,000 inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians.
It broke away from Baku’s control in a war in the early 1990s, although Azerbaijan recovered control of some areas in heavy fighting in 2020, when Russia brokered a ceasefire.
Peskov said all sides must obey the terms of that deal, even if there had been changes in the situation since.
The Russian defence ministry said on Monday it had replaced the head of its peacekeeping forces in the South Caucasus, the second change in the space of a few months.